With Russia's autocratic leader Vladimir Putin ramping up his war of nerves against the United States and the West, evidently to take advantage of weak leadership in America, Karen Dawisha, director of the William E. Havighurst Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies at Miami University of Ohio, appeared at the Wilson International Center for Scholars recently to talk about her new book, Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?
In part three of this presentation, Dawisha concludes her critique of the Putin regime's drive to expand and entrench its corrupt enterprise and secure future access to its riches, and the audience hears from the discussant, Elizabeth Wood, a professor of Russian and Soviet History at MIT.
Dawisha concluded her presentation with a discussion of a three-day series produced by the Russian newspaper Kommersant in 2000 about a 44-page document leaked by the Putin administration prepared in 1999 titled "The Reform of the Presidential Administration."
The Kremlin acknowledged the authenticity of the document but claimed it was only a draft. Dawisha dismissed this characterization on the ground that everything in the document had actually been implemented, consisting of assignments of tasks to every department in the government, to "tangibly and concretely " influence all political processes in the society.
The document contains this provocative passage: "If the president really wants to ensure social order and stability in the country during his rule, then the self-governing political system (what Dawisha calls 'democracy') is not needed."
The document continues, "Instead he will need a political authority that will create the necessary political situations in Russia and the near abroad. . . . All the special and secret activities to counteract the opposition will be entirely in the hands of the Special Forces. Opposition media outlets will be driven to financial crisis. In an early indication of their cynicism and seriousness, the open functions of the presidential administration and relations with the opposition is to lock in constitutional norms and join forces with the opposition in the fight against extremism. But the closed function is, it is necessary always to ruin the coordinated plans of all opposition in general and each oppositionalist personally."
Dawisha stressed that while the book is current, its real focus is on the basis for the regime laid out decades ago. She charged that the failure of the West to confront this circumstance was "a political failure, not an intelligence failure." She traced these failures "from looking into Putin's eyes and seeing his soul" by one president to a "reset" by another. She called the sanctions program instituted by the U.S. in April "a closing of the circle and an admission that the U.S. government has known this and knows what they're dealing with."
She warned that the Russians would like to see another "reset," but this would not be to America's advantage.
Wood began her brief remarks by praising the book as "stellar," "amazing" and "daring." She derided the Putin "autocracy" as a "façade of democracy" behind which a "network" rules Russia. She suggested that this is a reflection of a system of tribute traceable to medieval times in Russia and the regime of Peter the Great. She also found parallels to Soviet times in the creation of "substitute" organizations in the government as fronts for control by the Party.
Wood contends that what is missing from the organizational construct under Putin is "the Russian idea" for which he seems continually to be searching. To this writer, it is eerily reminiscent of what President George H.W. Bush famously called "the vision thing."
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