Staunton, March 26 – For Vladimir Putin’s Russia, corruption is the communism of today, Stanislav Belkovsky argues, and the struggle against it is like the struggle against the CPSU a quarter of a century ago, a battle that will lead to “Perestroika Version Two” and a series of events resembling those that lead to the unraveling of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In an interview posted on the “Osobaya bukhva” portal yesterday, the Moscow commentator argues that “the situation in Russia is repeating the situation of the USSR in 1991,” when because of Vilnius, the closing of a popular television show and “odious cadre changes,” “all expected the triumph of reaction.” But in fact, the outcome was just the reverse (specletter.com/politika/2013-03-25/esli-seichas-my-pereshli-v-pessimisticheskuju-stadiju-perestroiki-znachit-razvjazka-blizka.html).
Many opposition figures today who are extremely pessimistic about the direction Russia is taking under Putin, Belkovsky says, forget “there was exactly the same trend at the end of the 1980s” and early 1990s. Indeed, pessimism predominated “at the end of 1990 and the beginning of 1991” when it appeared that Moscow was moving against the reforms of perestroika.
And today’s opposition figures do not recognize that in fact, “such attitudes” point to the deepening and not the destruction of reformist projects and highlight the growing alienation of the population from those in power and the resulting decline in the authority of the latter, all of which opens the way to real change.
Asserting that he views what is happening with optimism, Belkovsky argues that “the darkness is always greatest before the dawn” and says that “if we are passing into the pessimistic stage of perestroika, that means that the unraveling [of the existing system] is near,” perhaps not in absolute terms but “in any case, it is approaching.”
After recounting some of the political and media events of 1990-1991 that gave rise to pessimism but ultimately led to the collapse of the system, the Moscow analyst suggests that what is going on now needs to be measured against what happened a generation ago, especially with regard to two developments.
On the one hand, he says, the dismissal of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is now quite possible. “It is clear that Vladimir Putin doesn’t want to remove him, but the pressure of the elites on the president on this question is growing,” an indication in and of itself of divisions at the top.
And on the other hand, the ongoing “struggle with corruption” is inflicting “enormous harm to the system.” In Rusia today, Belkovsky says, “corruption is the fuel and motor of both the political and economic system” and a reflection of the Faustian bargain of “’freedom of theft in exchange for loyalty.’”
Now, however, “this pact is ceasing to be observed,” members of the ruling party are being forced to leave the Duma and the Federation council, and top officials are facing the possibility of criminal charges. “All this,” Belkovsky says, “is leading to the destabilization of the regime.”
Indeed, he suggests, “the struggle with corruption in today’s circumstances is similar to the struggle with communism at the beginning of the 1990s.” Mikhail Gorbachev condemned the Soviet Union and the rule of the CPSU when he was chosen president “in exchange for the elimination” of the Soviet constitution’s provision giving special status to the party.
Today, “the struggle with corruption is inevitably leading to the breakdown of this system because in this system there is nothing except corruption.” Only those projects, “whether they are large or small,” which offer benefits to the corrupt are carried out as can be seen in the case of plans for the Sochi Olympiad.
“According to official data, the budget [for that event] has reached 50 billion dollar, while the Budget for the Vancouver Olympiad was [only] two billion.” Thus, “theft of an enormous size are taking place even in Vladimir Putin’s holy of holies, in the Olympic sphere where it might seem, one must not steal in any circumstances.”
All this is leading to a breakdown because it is turning out that “Putin, who has always been praised for the fulfillment of his obligations before those in his inner circle is ceasing to follow this ‘code of honor’ and this in itself is finally unbalancing the system.” That is what his opponents need to understand to overcome their current pessimism.
They need to recognize the value of participating in elections, even though the voting will be dishonest just as it was at the end of Soviet times because “a journey of a thousand leagues begins with the first step, as the Chinese proverb has it and as events at the end of the USSR demonstrate.
In 1989, the opposition lost the elections to the Congress of Peoples Deputies to the Communists, but it won “a legal tribune which its members used much more effectively than their oppponents.” And then in 1990, “the opposition in fact won the elections to the RSFSR Supreme Soviet” and brought Boris Yeltsin to power.
In the ensuing “political battle” between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, “Gorbachev lost.” Had it not been for the August 1991 coup and “cardinal mistakes” of the Soviet rulers, “the Soviet Union might have existed for a long time in one form or another,” possible in the form of “a Union of Sovereign States. But that did not happen, and it is unlikely to happen now.
Once again, Belkovsky concludes, “all the chief mistakes which are leading to its weakening are coming from the authorities themselves.” And the opposition needs to recognize that it can exploit those mistakes in such a way so that the Putin regime will proceed toward its end just as Gorbachev did at the end of Soviet times.