March 02, 2015

Meet the gravediggers of Russian democracy

With the death of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, it's pretty clear that Russia is a non-democratic state, de facto.

So, who killed Russian democracy?

Vladimir Putin is, if anything, only a final cause.

The real gravediggers are six.

And, they are two Russians, and four Americans.

The Russian I propose is Boris Yeltsin, and the three Americans are George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jeffrey Sachs, a single name to represent the neoliberals who got Yeltsin to "burn down" Russia.

Poppy Bush first refused to see Yeltsin as an alternative to Gorbachev, perhaps setting him up for future sensitivity to would-be slights. He then, despite earlier pledges not to do so, became somewhat triumphalist over the end of the Cold War. Even worse, although German Chancellor Helmut Kohl put a big crowbar in the Federal Republic's wallet to ease the financial shock of East Germany being reincorporated into the West, Bush refused to offer significant aid to Gorbachev.

As a result, he lost credibility at home, and thus the coup. When it failed, Yeltsin, still not well-appraised by the West in general, became "the option."

That's even though it was clear that another Russian — vodka — was clearly in charge of Boris Yeltsin.

That alcoholism is why Yeltsin rapidly cycled through would-be political heirs, especially after Sachs et al convinced him to burn down Russia. Nemtsov was the second-last of those heirs, before Putin.

Bush was wrong in encouraging Sachs et al to do a neoliberal sell-off of Russia, and Clinton was wrong in encouraging it to continue.

Then, there's Yeltsin vs. "what are the options," namely leading up to the 1996 elections.

The "leader principle" probably seemed to Clinton to be the best that Russia could do. Was he right?

First, he was wrong to not "nudge" Yeltsin to settle on one good choice.

Second, he was wrong to not have other people, whether instead of, or in addition to, the Sachses of the world, working on improving Russian democratic and electoral structures.

Third, he was wrong to not consult more with Yeltsin on the Balkans War. Even if we eventually ignored Yeltsin's ideas, not talking to him more, especially as we expanded NATO eastward, which made Russia feel more isolated, and  fueled strong nationalistic sentiments inside Russia.

The fourth American?

John McCain. He was right to see "KGB" inside Putin's eyeballs. He, and others, were even more wrong than the first round of NATO expansion, when they wanted to expand at least affiliate membership to countries like Georgia and Ukraine. The result is that Georgia's already gotten its war at Russia's hands, and Ukraine is getting it now.

In both cases, affiliate membership offered little, yet was almost as stupid as full membership. Plus, NATO now looks like its words won't ever be backed with actions. And, Putin and other ultranationalists had their triumphalist lust fed in Georgia, and want it fed again now.

And the second Russian? Symbol of nationalist intellgentsia even as he was dying, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave Putin the intellectual blessing to pursue a neo-Tsarist past to a new, strong, nationalistic Russia. His sentiments about Ukraine, his totally wrong claims that it was never a separate country (Kievan Rus, the first "Russian" state, that introduced Christianity to Russia

Putin as the final cause? Yeltsin's alcoholic erraticness may have led him to settle on somebody worse, if he'd lived another year. That said, once tabbed, Putin wormed himself totally into Yeltsin's life, both personal and political.

But, otherwise, the others are the real gravediggers, and the real pallbearers.

Of these people, Yeltsin died dead and drunk. Solzhenitsyn died dead and unapologetic. Sachs was later partially apologetic; none of the three American politicians ever have been.

To put it another way, other than a bit of euthanizing help, Putin didn't kill Russian democracy. He's just the greedy heir rewriting the will to make sure he's the only real beneficiary of its demise.

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