Friday, 15 May 2015

PUTIN vs PUTIN: EURASIANISM AND BEYOND

Putin Vs Putin: Vladimir Putin Viewed from the Right
by Alexander Dugin
Arktos Publishing, 316 pages
Buy at Amazon.com

Reviewed by Rémi Tremblay

Few leaders evoke as much fascination as Vladimir Putin. In a world led by mediocrities like Barack Obama, David Cameron, Stephen Harper, and the other poltroons of political correctness and monotone rhetoric, the athletic and mysterious Russian president stands out.

Enigmatic, strong, and unapologetic, this former judo expert and secret service agent has many in the West wondering who Vladimir Putin really is. Still, despite its title, Putin Vs Putin: Vladimir Putin Viewed from the Right was not written in order to answer these questions or even to describe Putin’s reign, but rather it was written to give a Eurasianist critique of the Russian president and his achievements.

This man, born in Saint-Petersburg, became the interim president of Russia in 1999, at the climax of the Yeltsin era, a period known in Russia not only for its corruption, but also for its liberal policies and its opening up to the Western world. In Moscow, the liberal oligarchs, who had built their fortunes at the expense of ordinary Russians when the USSR collapsed, were in power. Simply put, they were above the law. Yeltsin was their toy and, seeing his inevitable downfall, they decided to support Putin, believing that his patriotism and populism were only facades that could serve to bolster their power. Like his predecessor, they were sure, he would become their puppet.

Putin’s muscular intervention in Chechnya during his first year as president brought him the legitimacy his predecessor never enjoyed, and helped him build a trademark of manly patriotism. The oligarchs who pushed him to become president, like Boris Berezovsky, Roman Abramovich, and Alexander Mamut, soon realized their mistake, and the relationship between them and their protégé soon soured.

Oligarch Berezovsky with obligatory blonde.
Putin never denounced the oligarchs as a whole, and the liberal tendency they supported in Moscow remains powerful, despite a lack of popularity among the general population. But Putin at least managed to put a few in check by taking back what they had stolen, jailing some, and forcing others to take the road to exile.

Putin’s first term saw many achievements that fitted the Eurasianist agenda, policies it should be noted that were backed by the population. He took the media out of the hands of the most notorious oligarchs, prevented Russia’s disintegration, reformed the Federation Council, introduced the rigid structure of the federal districts, and so on. But between election periods, Putin has proved to be quite liberal and even conciliatory towards the West.

In 2003, Putin started asserting Russia’s sovereignty. He refused to join the American invasion of Iraq, instead siding with Paris and Berlin in opposition to it. This assertion of sovereignty, at first implicit, became resoundingly explicit at his 2007 Munich speech, when he demanded the end of unipolarity and called for a multipolar world.

On this basis, the Russian president engaged in independent and active geopolitics, signing many treaties and pacts with other Eurasian countries, including the Eurasian Economic Community, the Common Free Market Zone, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation. However, Dugin regrets that those treaties and alliances are generally based on economics rather than a common worldview or a common historic destiny.

His strong actions made a break with the weakness of the Yeltsin years. Putin himself came to embody Russia in the same way that Louis XIV did France, when he declared, L’etat c’est moi (I am the state). He managed to eliminate the opposition around him: the liberal oligarchs, the leftists, and, it must be added, the ultranationalists. The creation of this void around himself was encouraged by the population, who, having never known democracy, demanded instead an effective authoritarian leader.

Medvedev and his shadow.
In 2008, after two consecutive terms, Putin had to step down due to constitutional limits. Dimitri Medvedev, a pro-Western liberal, replaced him.

Despite what many people feared, Medvedev’s term did not weaken Putin’s legacy nor change the outlook of the Russian state. Instead this partial return to the failed policies of the Yeltsin era, which was encouraged by the Obama administration, prepared the way for Putin’s return to the Presidency in 2012. However, this is something that has left many questions unanswered.

As he moves through his third term, Putin must realize that he has essentially failed. Economically, his few improvised policies, lacking proper planning, have seen the economy grow. But he has not solved the most important problem: Russia still does not have a real economy. Many fields, notably in the high-tech sector, have yet to be developed. Immigration and corruption are growing concerns, and, even in the field of geopolitics, he has failed. Despite some minor successes, Putin has failed to stop NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe. Several pro-American governments have been established in neighboring countries such as Georgia and Ukraine.

Problem not solved: Muslims in Moscow.
According to Dugin, Putin is far from the image of the hardcore nationalist created by Western media propaganda. He is a man of halves: half-liberal, half-Eurasianist. He has made many steps in the right direction, but somehow he never seems to reach the end goal. Putin is essentially a realist, as defined by Machiavelli and Carl Schmidt. He has not found an ideology, but rather reacts instinctively to events and circumstances.

Despite his flaws, Putin is, according to Dugin, the best leader possible; especially when compared to the standard Western politician.

Putin Vs Putin: Vladimir Putin Viewed from the Right is not a biography but a Eurasianist analysis of Putin’s reign and of the challenges to be overcome in the future. It is an excellent introduction to Russian politics, thanks to the many footnotes, which introduce the main protagonists of the Russian political scene and the many influences at work in Moscow.




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