Reconciling Stalin with Victory

За нас за вас и за десант и за спецназ! I would like to start off by expressing my deepest respects to the Red Army veterans who fought and died so that (literally) hundreds of millions of their Slavic brethren could live. Вечная слава героям!

Last year I discussed four myths about the Eastern Front, and Fedia Kriukov unraveled a fifth in the comments. This year, I’m going to comment on one of the most contradictory, even harrowing, debates in Russia. How to reconcile Stalin, the despotic Messiah, and Victory 1945, now emerging as the primary national myth consolidating the Russian nation-state. I don’t intend to resolve this debate (I don’t believe that’s even possible), but I do believe it is necessary for people on all sides – Westerners, ordinary Russians, Russian liberals, and Stalinists alike – to understand it a bit better. This is my humble hope in writing this.

First, the facts. Russians are not hardcore Stalinists. Neither is the Russian government. President Medvedev unequivocally condemned Stalin, saying there is “no justification for the repressions”, and spoke out against Moscow mayor Luzhkov’s initiative to publicly display a few Stalin posters (amongst thousands) during the Victory celebrations. He was backed in this sentiment by 51% of Russians, while only 12% fully supported Luzhkov. Today, most Russians are either conflicted on or indifferent to Stalin. Neither for, nor fully against. Ambiguous.

Many Westerners, sparing themselves from hard critical reflection, like to condemn Russians for their ambivalence towards Stalin. Wasn’t he a mass murderer who killed more Russians than Hitler? (This is a constant theme of anti-Stalin and general Russophobe propaganda). Quite apart from this being simply wrong according to all objective estimates, Russians themselves say they suffered far more under four years of the Nazi yoke than under twenty plus years of Stalinism*.

According to polls, 50% had a close relative die in the Great Patriotic War (33% – injured, 16% – missing in action). Only 14% say that nothing particularly bad happened to a close relative during the war. These answers are in line with the statistics on wartime demographic losses – some 27mn Soviet citizens died in that war (13mn Russian), of them 8.7mn soldiers (5.7mn Russian)**. That’s out of a total Soviet population of 197mn in June 1941.

In contrast, in response to the question, “Did anyone in your family suffer from the repressions shortly before or after the war?”, 22% of Russians said “yes”, while 63% said “no”. (Note that “suffer” does not imply death, since contrary to the popular anti-Soviet mythology most Gulag inmates survived). This also tallies with the hard statistics. During the entire 1921-53 period, some 4.1mn people were condemned for counter-revolutionary activities, of them 0.8mn to death and 1.1mn of whom died in camps and prisons. After adding the 3.5-5.0mn excess deaths from the collectivization famines, it is hard to see how Stalin could have been responsible for more than ten million deaths at the absolute maximum.

Russian man with Stalin portrait, May Day 2010 (h/t Sean Guillory).

Russian man with Stalin portrait, May Day 2010 (h/t Sean Guillory).

And before some ideological fanatic comes out with the cheap “You’re a filthy Stalinist!” card, I would note that it is quite possible to condemn Stalin on the basis of his real crimes, without resorting to neo-Goebbelsian propaganda about “62 million victims of the Red Plague” or “Stalin killed more Russians than Hitler” spread by the ideologue Rummel. If anything, such rhetoric actually encourages the rehabilitation of Stalinism. No, really. Scratch a Stalinist, and you reveal a can of understandable human emotions – pride, nostalgia, defiance. From Sean Guillory’s post on meeting a small, old KPRF man holding a Stalin portrait during the May Day protest a week ago:

But for a little old man holding a photo of Stalin? For him, the dictator means something wholly different.  There is certainly a large element of historical nostalgia embedded in Stalin’s portrait.  Stalin is mostly about the USSR’s victory over the Nazis and a time when Russia was a superpower… The Stalin posters also signify a longing for an imagined past of stability, predictability, and ironically, a paternal state that dealt a measure of social and economic justice… Lastly, Stalin is also defiance.  People carry posters of Stalin simply because others tell them they shouldn’t. Hoisting Stalin to the sun is about the current war over memory.  It’s about saying without hyperbole: This is my Stalin and he has nothing to do with yours.

In contrast to Russians’ conflicted views on Stalin, the Victory is unambiguous, unequivocal, absolute. The Victory that cost 26.6mn Soviet lives, but saved the Slavic world entire from a historyless future of deportations, slavery, and death. A Victory reverently regarded by all Russians with a profound, bittersweet pride. And not only by Russians. Despite Yuschenko’s five year anti-Russian campaign***, 87% of Ukrainians say they believe Victory Day belongs to all people, only slightly lower than 91% of Russians. In a very real sense, Victory isn’t just Russia’s national myth. It belongs to and unites all the peoples of the former Soviet Union.

But here we stumble across the central contradiction. This Victory was won under the supreme leadership of Generalissimo Stalin, the despotic Messiah who ruled Russians like the God of the Old Testament. This isn’t fawning hyperbole. The tendency to ascribe semi-divine or “natural force” characteristics to Stalin is actually rather common amongst Russians. I suspect that is because it’s the clearest way to resolve their radical ambiguity towards Him.

The Kremlin is faced with a dilemma in reconciling Stalin with Victory. Promoting the Victory isn’t only feelgood propaganda. It is very useful. It stokes the social cohesion that Russia needs to consolidate itself, and to actualize her shift towards sobornost’ (the catch-all term for a deep sense of internal peace and unity between races, religions, sexes, etc, within a society). It also creates powerful bonds with other peoples of the erstwhile USSR, buttressing the Kremlin’s drive to (re)gather the Russian lands. For this reason, under Putin, Russia has devoted lavish attention to the public spectacle of Victory. The Victory parades in Moscow become ever more impressive, – indeed, imperial – with every passing year. Under the initiative of Kremlin-affiliated youth movements, the Ribbon of Saint George was popularized as a symbol of Victory since 2005. This harkens back to the Medal For the Victory Over Germany, which was awarded after the war to all the soldiers, officers and partisans who directly participated in live combat actions against the European Axis. A medal dominated by Stalin’s visage.

This very symbology reveals the crux of the dilemma. Stalin. Not as man, but as avatar. The idea. The imagined past of sobornost’. A Golden Age in which the intelligentsia and old Bolsheviks; the corrupt bureaucrats and oligarchs; the Western idolizers and rootless cosmopolitans, were condemned, and extirpated. Above all, the singular emancipation of Victory. Even neglecting the moral dimension, all this opens a frightening, churning vistage that the Kremlin elites dare not approach. Nor is repudiating Stalin an option, for that would also mean repudiation of Russia’s national myth. And that is the surest path to ruin…

So the Kremlin’s position is neither the rose-hued nostalgia of the old Stalinist protester, nor the desaturated grey of the moral relativist. Not in thrall to kitsch, like the blogger behind the Stalin bus (for even discredited kitsch can resurrect itself if enough people begin to believe in it again). Nor the uniform shadows of the Russian liberals (since that is simply too depressing).

When called out to defend or condemn it, the Kremlin is forced by the tides of history and fate into a position of radical ambiguity towards the Stalinist project.

A turbulent world of clashing white and black, the very essence of Stalinist metapolitics. Ironically, the permanent contradiction of both Russians and the Kremlin towards the Stalinist legacy is also its most fitting epitaph, for that was its very essence. Slavoj Zizek on When the Party Commits Suicide:

Precisely as Marxists, we should then have no fear in acknowledging that the purges under Stalinism were in a way more “irrational” than the Fascist violence: paradoxically, this very excess is an unmistakable sign that, in contrast to Fascism, Stalinism was the case of a perverted authentic revolution… the “irrationality” of Nazism was “condensed” in anti-Semitism, in its belief in the Jewish plot, while the Stalinist “irrationality” pervaded the entire social body. For that reason, Nazi police investigators were still looking for proofs and traces of actual activity against the regime, while Stalinist investigators were engaged in clear and unambiguous fabrications (invented plots and sabotages, etc.).

However, this very violence inflicted by the Communist Power on its own members bears witness to the radical self-contradiction of the regime, i.e. to the fact that, at the origins of the regime, there was an “authentic” revolutionary project — incessant purges were necessary not only to erase the traces of the regime’s own origins, but also as a kind of “return of the repressed,” a reminder of the radical negativity at the heart of the regime. The Stalinist purges of high Party echelons relied on this fundamental betrayal: the accused were effectively guilty insofar as they, as the members of the new nomenklatura, betrayed the Revolution. The Stalinist terror is thus not simply the betrayal of the Revolution, i.e. the attempt to erase the traces of the authentic revolutionary past; it rather bears witness to a kind of “imp of perversity” which compels the post-revolutionary new order to (re)inscribe its betrayal of the Revolution within itself, to “reflect” it or “remark” it in the guise of arbitrary arrests and killings which threatened all members of the nomenklatura — as in psychoanalysis, the Stalinist confession of guilt conceals the true guilt… This inherent tension between the stability of the rule of the new nomenklatura and the perverted “return of the repressed” in the guise of the repeated purges of the ranks of the nomenklatura is at the very heart of the Stalinist phenomenon: purges are the very form in which the betrayed revolutionary heritage survives and haunts the regime. The dream of Gennadi Zyuganov, the Communist presidential candidate in 1996 (things would have turned out OK in the Soviet Union if only Stalin had lived at least 5 years longer and accomplished his final project of having done with cosmopolitanism and bringing about the reconciliation between the Russian state and the Orthodox Church — in other words, if only Stalin had realized his anti-Semitic purge…), aims precisely at the point of pacification at which the revolutionary regime would finally get rid of its inherent tension and stabilize itself — the paradox, of course, is that in order to reach this stability, Stalin’s last purge, the planned “mother of all purges” which was to take place in the Summer of 1953 and was prevented by his death, would have to succeed. Here, then, perhaps, the classic Trotsky’s analysis of the Stalinist “Thermidor” is not fully adequate: the actual Thermidor happened only after Stalin’s death (or, rather, even after Khruschev’s fall), with the Brezhnev years of “stagnation,” when nomenklatura finally stabilized itself into a “new class.” Stalinism proper is rather the enigmatic “vanishing mediator” between the authentic Leninist revolutionary outburst and its Thermidor…

But some things are certain. Victory can never be fully disassociated from Stalin. And Stalin is far too complex a historical figure to be reduced to an ideological for/against binary. Of course, by now I’m only repeating myself…

* Of course, there are some Russian families – and relatively more Ukrainian and national minority families – who did suffer more from Stalinist policies than under Nazism. That is because Stalin’s repressions tended to target particular social groups and families, such as former nobles or wealthy farmers. Their descendants tend to remember Stalin with much greater distaste than “normal Russians”, for whom just keeping your head down more or less nullified their chances of being repressed. Though even here, a qualification is necessary. On hearing of Stalin’s death, there were reports of even the Gulag inmates weeping. The contradictions, confusions, warping, psychoses, call them what you will, of Stalinism – they have always been there with us.

** Not directly related to this year’s topic, but I do want to recall one of the myths I covered last year on the GPW, the (Western) myth that the “Russians” lost five or ten or whatever soldier for every heroic Aryan. In reality, the ratio of Soviet to Axis losses on the Eastern Front was 1.3:1.

*** From the same article – the Ukrainian Minister of Education also said that Ukrainian textbooks will again refer to the “Great Patriotic War”, reverting back from Yuschenko’s ideological campaign to call it just the “Second World War”.


  1. Excellent post, informative et al.

  2. Good explication. I think that noting this ambiguity of Stalin–not just in regard to the War, but to Russian history as a whole is absolutely necessary in understanding Stalinism as a historical phenomenon. In this sense, Zizek’s words can be extended to Stalinism as a civilization and as historical memory. Meaning that Stalinism was both authoritarian and populist, it created and destroyed, it brought Russia out of the dirt as much as squashed it back into it. It is this ambiguous, or should I say, dialectical nature of Stalinism is what makes its memory so bifrucated and impossible to shove into the good/evil binary.

    Ironically, the Russian government’s current stance is the most correct one in that it maintains Stalinism’s irreconcilable nature. Only the most dogmatic Marxists (the KPRF?) and liberals can’t accept this because their ideology calls for the collapse of all thought into the One, either good or evil, right or wrong. Interestingly, this reveals yet another “radical negativity” of Stalinism in that it’s actual existence defied the very ideological dogmatism Dialectical Historical Materialism purported. Stalinism was about the One too. But its was and remains about the Two.

    • Alex (that one:) says:

      Sean – well said:
      “it brought Russia out of the dirt as much as squashed it back into it. It is this ambiguous, or should I say, dialectical nature of Stalinism is what makes its memory so bifrucated and impossible to shove into the good/evil binary.”

      I was going to say about the same – plus that it is this “positive” contribution of Stalin’s regime – which Russians/Soviets saw but no other nation had experienced (the typical “western” answer to “who” won the war contributes to this too) – this makes it hard for the “west” to understand the Russian “ambivalence” Anatolyi correctly writes about.

      Igor, AU

  3. So true…

  4. I believe that ultimately the crimes that will be remembered through the centuries will not be crimes against individuals but crimes against nations. This is because individuals are mortal but nations are not. Thus the Russian victims of Stalin, since they do not embody the Russian nation, will be forgotten (the purges were nationalistic in character, they included members of all groups among both victims and perpetrators), whereas Estonians, Chechens, even Ukrainians (e.g. Holodomor) can more or less build a narrative of genocide than be kept alive as long as those nations exist.

  5. Great post. As a kid I used to play with my grandfather’s Victory medal whose picture you put up in this post. I have memories of brushing my fingers against Stalin’s mustachioed face on it.

    Through most of the 1980s (i.e. through most of my childhood), the Soviet state’s solution to the Stalin/Victory problem was to ignore the Stalin part. He was neither condemned (that stopped with Khruschov) nor praised. They simply didn’t talk about him. I still remember how small and dry Stalin’s entry was in the official encyclopedic dictionary of that time. A huge percentage (perhaps a quarter?) of all new movies were still about the war then, but Stalin almost never figured in them. By the way, kudos for posting Okudzhava’s great song up there. One of the best.

    Sure, Stalin was responsible for the violence of the party purges and the collectivization, though I’ve always found Western ideologues’ anger at the purges to be unintentionally revealing. Aren’t they supposed to be rabid anti-Communists? Well, pretty much all of the victims of Stalin’s purges were professional Communists.

    One thing that one can’t honestly accuse him of is cowardice. He stayed in Moscow even when the Germans were in its suburbs. On November 7th, 1941 he was where everyone expected him to be – out in the open, on the Mausoleum, reviewing the troops that were being sent into a battle raging 30 km away.

    There were riots in Georgia, with hundreds of fatalities among the locals and the police, when news got out that Khruschov had condemned Stalin’s cult of personality in 1956.

    They’ve never forgiven Khruschov for that. The veneration of Stalin, for understandable reasons, is much more prevalent in Georgia than in Russia to this day. The Georgian state still runs a hagiographic museum of Stalin in his native town of Gori.

    To any Americans or Europeans who might read this comment: if you ever meet a Georgian, try telling him something critical of Stalin. Observe what happens.

    Russians’ ambivalence about Stalin is supposed to signify their dark, totalitarian souls, but Georgians’ unequivocal embrace of him did not preclude the Western press from calling Georgians democrats when that agreed with its political goals. What would politics be without the entertainment that its hypocrisies provide?

    • Scowspi says:

      “Through most of the 1980s (i.e. through most of my childhood), the Soviet state’s solution to the Stalin/Victory problem was to ignore the Stalin part. ”

      That reminds me. Once, I read a Soviet-printed “History of the USSR” book from the 1970s. Reading this book, one would have no idea who was actually running the country between 1924 and 1953. Stalin’s name occurred once I think, in some harmless context (“the Communist Party leader, a certain J. Stalin, approved the education bill” or something like that).

      What is also interesting is the way Stalin has become decoupled from any ideology of Communism or Marxism. The Georgians, who love Stalin out of tribal nationalism, are the best example of this.

      • As a child I remember once overhearing the name Beria in an adult conversation. I forgot the context long ago, but whatever it was, it made me very curious. For years afterwards, despite repeated attempts, I couldn’t find out who the hell Beria was. The encyclopedia did not have an article on him. My parents wouldn’t say. Obviously, he wasn’t going to pop up in any history books or TV documentaries. The fact that it was difficult to assign that name to any known to me ethnicity just added to the mystery.

        You kids these days, with your Internets, just don’t know what it was like.

        • Scowspi says:

          There is a famous story about Beria: after his downfall, the article about him in the “Great Soviet Encyclopedia” was cut out, and replaced by an extensive article on the Bering Strait.

      • Alex (that one:) says:

        70-80s was my childhood as well. Then ,whenever I had questions about Stalin, Beria, what was happening in the country during 30s-50s etc – these questions were always answered – carefully, but not in any way only approvingly of the regime. My impression was that most of my friends received similar “education”. I met people who were in the “Stalin’s” camps too. A “folklore” addendum to the official history – so our education was in a sense well balanced.


        Igor, AU

    • olivegreen says:

      My childhood (from the age I was old enough to understand such things) fell onto late ’80s-90s, and I grew up with Stalin as a kind of bogeyman to scare children. The publications in Ogonyok in the late ’80s are something it is rather hard to erase from memory. Which is why it strikes me as absurd to hear people talk about how Stalin was never properly condemned. On the contrary, the pendulum swung much too far in one direction, branding Stalin as evil incarnate. There was bound to be a backlash.

  6. It is an even greater tribute to the ordinary Ivan and commanders like Zhukhov that they managed to win the war at all with Iosef Vissarionovich command.

    -1937, purged the generals and KP members
    -famine killed millions who could have been in a military uniform
    – Gulag network killed millions who could have been soldiers, factory workers and even inventors/weapon designers.
    -wasting men and material on fools crusades like in Finland in 1939,
    -Toadies and apparatchiks getting key positions over men of talent.

    If all these and various other factors like the ‘no step back’ order were not included, then the war would have been much shorter.
    Napoleon only lasted one year. Given the differences in the style of warfare in the 1940s, I still couldn’t see how the Nazis could have survived more than two winters, and they never would have got as far as the Volga.

    And of course, if someone like Trotsky had won the power struggle, there would not have been much difference. It would still be corrupt and autocratic.

    So in all this, it is not the leader, but the men on the ground who deserve all the praise, and a glass of vodka raised to them. You’re right though that the Vicotry parade becomes more and more a symbol of strength, ironically as their are fewer and fewer surviving veterans. I suppose it is just somthing to do with the human psyche and memory. In Britain, for example, in the years after WW1 and WW2, there were so many veterans around. But as they started to die off the celebrations became more elaborate. I have seen this in my short lifetime. The anniversary of D Day is now celebrated every year in France, quite big at that, with heads of state attending, not just a private commemoration by veterans.

    • I’d be careful in condemning Stalin’s war conduct in such unequivocal terms. There’s research suggesting the main problem was too rapid Army expansion in the late 1930’s that left it poorly officered, not the purges whose impact on military cohesion may have been pretty small. And surprisingly, Order 227 seems to have actually been supported by most Soviet soldiers. The fact is, using harsh measures to prevent the disintegration of a front is effective and was later used by Germany from the summer of 1944.

  7. georgesdelatour says:

    I’m with you on most of this. I just have this intense dislike of Zizek’s ugly writing. Whenever he says “paradoxically” it usually means, “I’m about to say something false, but use deliberately convoluted language to hide the moment when I flipped meaning.”

    It’s true that Hitler mostly showed personal loyalty where Stalin showed absolutely none. In his Berlin bunker at the end he died alongside Goebbels and other close allies from the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. They never seem to have feared that Hitler might have them killed. When Stalin died in 1953 he’d already dispatched most of his party colleagues. The ones left really did think Stalin might have them killed at any moment’s notice. Overall, Hitler had a much more confident personality than Stalin. If a general did well, he didn’t view the man as a potential userper. But Stalin was paranoid of the success of others. He even had Zhukov stripped of his command immediately after the war.

    None of this means Nazism was better than Stalinism. It was worse. But Zizek is trying to force far too much from the difference in the two dictators’ temperaments.

    Actually, now I think of it, how does the fate of Ernst Röhm and the Brownshirts fit into Zizek’s narrative?

  8. Alex (that one:) says:

    Very good, interesting & mostly well-written (IMHO) post, Anatlolyi.

    (I wish you would not overuse the inserted citations, though – the Zizek’s one is good and sort of relevant, but it is about the same length as your own writing. It distracts unnecessarily. In contrast – IMHO- the citation from Sean was spot on and did not interrupt the flow).


    Igor, AU

  9. In reality, the ratio of Soviet to Axis losses on the Eastern Front was 1.3:1.

    I guess “in reality” here means “according to Krivosheev“. Of course, being “in the open employ” of the Russian Ministry of Truth, Krivosheev can be forgiven for massaging his numbers a bit. You on the other hand, being a prodigy and all, have no excuse for overlooking this and a couple of even bigger problems. First, it is a ratio of two unverifiable numbers obtained by different people using different methods, which is a no-no even in social sciences. Second, even if there were any way to know this ratio with fair precision, it would be about as useful as “average temperature in hospital”.

    • I didn’t realize that the Ministry of Defense is now called the “Ministry of Truth”. When did it get renamed?

      As for your shrill outburst, you are confusing two different categories. When Krivosheev does his comparison, he compares irrecoverable losses (killed and missing, including surviving POWs). Kurtukov is correctly criticizing Krivosheev for making a mistake in converting irrecoverable losses into demographic losses (dead at the end of the war, including only POWs who did not survive).

      The ratio of demographic losses is utterly meaningless specifically because the Germans and their flunkies were exterminating POWs, and USSR wasn’t. So this ratio becomes not of one who fought better, but who was more evil.

      But I will grant that Germans (and let’s not forget their flunkies) were more evil.

      • … When did it get renamed?

        You took me too literally. The Ministry of Truth doesn’t really exist, you know.

        … you are confusing two different categories.

        What categories? I didn’t say anything about any categories.

        • I was merely trying to hint gently to avoid the use of propagandistic cliches from ancient propagandistic literature. Propaganda is fine, but cliches suck.

          Also, if you don’t use the term “category”, doesn’t mean you’re not using the concept. Please read once again about the difference between irrecoverable (term coined by Krivosheev) and demographic losses. Then please understand that your attack on Krivosheev’s ratio of irrecoverable losses by providing a link with the ratio of demographic losses misses the point.

          • if you don’t use the term “category”, doesn’t mean you’re not using the concept.

            It does. By “different methods” I meant not the concepts of irrecoverable vs demographic, but what one does about huge gaps and inconsistencies in the data. Tallying the WWII dead is not a simple matter of counting the grave stones or death certificates, is it?

          • I take your sudden silence as a sign that you’ve finally got my point, so let’s now discuss yours. You keep warning against confusing irrecoverable and demographic losses, but the only confusion here is yours. You’ve clearly misunderstood Kurtukov’s calculation: he compares not the demographic losses, but “потери непосредственно в ходе военных действий”. That is, he excludes POWs altogether, both survived and perished.

  10. Beria was born in Merkheuli, near Sukhum, …

    AK responds: Oleg, please stop spamming this thread with direct copy-paste jobs from Wikipedia and Jamestown. Not only do you have no original commentary, it isn’t even on topic.

  11. “But some things are certain. Victory can never be fully disassociated from Stalin”

    Very true. He made the critical economic decisions before the war that endowed Russia with the economic sinews of war such as no Tsar ever dreamed, and he made the critical politico-military decisions during it. And frankly, he did better at that than any other Warlord lacking miles of deep salt water between him and the Wehrmacht. John Erickson’s magisterial tomes “The Road to Stalingrad” and “The road to Berlin” are subtitled “Stalin’s war with Hitler” for that very reason.

  12. Борис Андрианович says:

    The Ministry of Truth Russia Today Izvestia Pravda and ITAR-TASS

    Anatoly Karlin admire the uniformity and obedience of the Putin-mafa Polonium controlled media in Sovok-union ?

    ” It’s very easy to condemn the crimes of others. Stalinist hacks condemned the crimes of the West. I don’t applaud them for that. I applaud the Soviet dissidents who condemned the crimes of the Soviet Union.”

    Noam Chomsky

    AK responds: Don’t regurgitate the idiotic conspiracy sites without attribution. It is plagiarism, off-topic, spam, etc. If you do it again, it goes into the spam folder immediately.

    In terms of modern strategy Russia’s reduced size brings advantages. Now Russia is not responsible for feeding Azerbaijan or providing cheap energy to the Baltic States or Ukraine. The KGB’s weapons of influence and manipulation, including organized crime and drug trafficking, can be used to influence and manipulate without maintaining expensive armies. And so, the Russians have learned how to streamline their dominance. Make the Americans think that Washington has the upper hand. But look around today and see what is happening to the American economy, to the U.S. dollar, and to the U.S. nuclear deterrent. There is a visible weakening in all three areas.

    AK responds: Great article. Russia rulez!!

  13. Борис Андрианович says:

    Brian Whitmore has a good new post over at Power Vertical about the “new” pro-Western Russian foreign policy currently in ascedency.

    The thing to remember here is what motivates Russia’s rulers more than anything else is the long-term preservation of the political status quo — that is, the long-term preservation of their power, privilege and wealth.

    If Vladimir Putin and his inner circle can achieve such security through confrontation with the West, that is the route they will go. But if they can better achieve it through closer relations with the West, they can go down that road as well.

    Right now, the Kremlin elite feels threatened by a creaky economy and an increasingly restless public. They need the West and appear ready to reach out — and the West appears ready to respond in kind.

    But sooner or later, the Kremlin is going to run into the same political-economic conundrum that has accompanied every Russian attempt at modernization.

    • Russia’s economy is now recovering fast, oil prices are within the 70-80$ range, and Mr. Whitmore doesn’t cite any evidence of an “increasingly restless public” (presumably because there quite simply isn’t any).

      Second, the conflation of “more pragmatic” and “more pro-Western” is nothing more than ideologized ranting. Russia has had a pro-German (pro-Italian, etc) foreign policy because they acquiesce to, if not support, Russia’s national interests, whereas being pro-American was definitely not pragmatic at a time when it was spreading color revolutions and trying to undermine Russia’s resurgence in the 2000’s. Now that Obama has steered US policy towards Russia in a more pragmatic direction, and since the new Conservative government in the UK has expressed an interest in improving relations with Russia, it is now indeed pragmatic for Russia to reciprocate.

  14. “Right now, the Kremlin elite feels threatened by a creaky economy and an increasingly restless public. They need the West and appear ready to reach out — and the West appears ready to respond in kind.”

    That doesn’t make sense to me. How can a closer relationship with the West help Russia’s economy or public mood? This economic crisis started in the West, it was caused by a specifically Western problem (too much debt on all levels) and before it’s over it may lead to the collapse of fundamental Western institutions (the dollar and the EU to pick just two). The West helping Russia get through this crisis would be like a leper helping a man with a flu get through leprosy.

    • Glossy, this is a Radio Liberty blog. Facts and logic aren’t their traditional strong points. 😉

      IMO, Russia’s main benefit in associating with the West by this point lies only in buying up its advanced technologies for modernization. With energy prices forecast to remain high, the Western economies increasingly swamped by debt and its institutions discredited, this should become only easier and easier in the next decade.

  15. Борис Андрианович says:

    Self-Interest, Russia, Pirates and PR

    An internal Russian government document obtained by Newsweek Russia suggests that Moscow is adopting its own version of Zakaria’s formula (Wall Street Journal English version here)

    The document lays out a friendlier attitude toward the West, from which Russia should obtain technology in order to finally modernize its oil-based economy, while continuing its attempts to acquire energy and aviation assets in Belarus and Ukraine. In all, the document lays out Russia’s best attitude toward 61 countries. In Newsweek’s words, Russia would no longer have “friends or enemies, but only interests.”

  16. Борис Андрианович says:

    The West helping Russia get through this crisis would be like a leper helping a man with a flu get through leprosy.

    Shale gas in Europe is political:

    A desire to diversify energy sources away from a dependence on Russia.

    “Shale can be a way to increase the region’s energy security, depending on what the results are of all these projects,” said Richard Morningstar, U.S special envoy for Eurasian energy, during a recent visit to Poland.

    “It is not a question of being independent from Russia. It is a question of having overall energy security.”

    “We are talking about a situation where any company wanting to explore, let alone drill, has to rely on U.S. expertise, be it equipment, manpower, know-how,” Ian Cronshaw, head of energy diversification at the International Energy Agency in Paris, “That can be very, very expensive.”

  17. Борис Андрианович says:

    Sources claimed that Russian businesses, whose capital uhnuli to divide the Icelandic tax havens, have lost about $ 20 billion.

    Борис Андрианович