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Russias Golden Age according to Strobe Talbott

Antony Penaud

August 24, 2014

1 Introduction
I have noticed that someones view on the Ukrainian crisis can often be guessed
if one knew his/her view (before the Ukrainian crisis) of Gorbachev, Yelstin, or
Many Westerns (and a few Russians) like Gorbachev and Yelstin, dont
like Putin, and their position is close to Western politicians and media on the
Ukrainian crisis.
On the other hand, most Russians (and a few Westerners) prefer Putin and are
close the Russian view on the Ukrainian crisis.
This rule of thumb does not always work (eg Gorbachev supported Crimea
rejoining Russia) but still, looking back at the 90s, and looking at the dierent
views on Yelstin (and Gorbachev), is important in order to understand todays
dierent views on Russia.
JRL recently published a few articles that did just that: John Wight (JRL179-
39, 18 August 2014) reminded us of Naomi Kleins Shock Doctrine, and then
the former Deputy Secretary of State (1994-2001) Strobe Talbott (JRL 181-49,
20 August 2014) wrote a long article called The making of Vladimir Putin in
which - in short - Yelstin was the hero and Putin was portrayed as the anti-
Yelstin (and as the anti-Gorbachev too).
In this article I will look back at the 90s in Russia, and then comment on
Talbotts article.
2 Plan of the article, sources
2.1 Plan
The plan of the article is:
3 Gorbachev
4 Yelstin
4.1 Shock therapy
4.2 Internal politics
4.3 Foreign policy
5 Conclusions
5.1 Stiglitz
5.2 Talbotts narrative
5.3 Talbotts ideal Russia
5.4 After the 90s
Appendix A: Comments on Talbotts article
Appendix B: My other articles
Appendix C: Graphs
2.2 Sources for this article
In the sections on Gorbachev and Yelstin I will quote extensively respected
authors who have a reputation of objectivity (or rather: they cannot be accused
of being pro-Putin) when it comes to Russian politics.
Joseph Stiglitz (JS) JS is a Nobel Prize in Economics. Quotes are taken
from his Guardian article The ruin of Russia (9 April 2003) and from his book
Globalization and its discontents (2002). JSg means that the quote is from
the Guardian article, JS from the book.
Riasanovsky and Steinberg (R&S) Quotes are from the classic A History
of Russia (7th edition, 2004) which according to the NYT was the American
standard for teaching history during the cold war.
Martin Sixsmith (MS) MS was a BBC Moscow correspondent. Quotes are
from his book Russia: a 1,000 year chronicle of the wild east (2011).
Joel Ostrow (JO) JO is professor of political science at Benedicte Univer-
sity. Quotes are from his book Politics in Russia: a reader (2012). The book
contains articles written by other authors, but the quotes in this article are from
[AP: I will use this notation for my writing in the Gorbachev/Yelstin sec-
3 Gorbachev
JO: Gorbachevs image in the West, enhanced by media and academic accounts
alike, was of a brilliant renaissance man, a liberal akin to the American Found-
ing Fathers. He stood not just for peace in the West but for real integration
with the liberal, democratic, and capitalist world. Hard to believe in retrospect,
but this was the public perception of him and was reected in his receipt of the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Though widely scorned and even hated at home at
all ends of the political spectrum, he was beloved in the West.
I witnessed this disconnect personally in October 1990, when working as an
accredited Moscow correspondent for Crains Communications, a news media
group specializing in business and trade publications. At a banquet in the most
exclusive hotel restaurant in Moscow, to support the edging advertising and
public relations industry just emerging in Russia, I was seated next to the com-
panys matriarch, Gertrude Crain, then in her late seventies. On the other side
of me sat a twenty-something female Muscovite, an artist and aspiring adver-
tising designer, sporting a nose ring and short, spiked purple hair.
Gorbachev had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier that day, and a
positively ecstatic Mrs Cain asked wether anyone in Russia was excited by the
news. Turning to the hip, young woman on my left, I asked dryly, She wants
to know what people here think about Gorbachevs receiving the Nobel.
Her large eyes bugging out and shaking her head, she simply stated, Uzhasniy
I translated for Mrs Cain, She says it is a terrible nightmare.
The look of utter incomprehension on the face of this powerful, stately woman
was one I shall never forget.
The local experience with Gorbachev was chaos and breakdown brought
about by half measures and unfullled promises.(...). Across Russia, the masses
found their earnings had become largely worthless, while store shelves were be-
coming barren. Hour-long lines for meager basics were the norm as black-market
prices topped unreachable levels for most of the Soviet people. Where Gor-
bachev had promised growth, modernity, and the strengthening of the country,
the people experienced exactly the opposite while observing their leader being
indecisive, erratically switching course, and generally demonstrating incompe-
4 Yelstin
4.1 Shock therapy
Shock therapy in short JSg: Ten years ago this month [AP: in 1993], Rus-
sias parliament, the duma, was seeking to impeach President Boris Yeltsin,
initiating a time of stalemate and struggle that ended seven months later when
Yeltsin ordered tanks to re on the dumas headquarters. Yeltsins victory set-
tled who ruled Russia and who would determine economic policy. But were
Yeltsins economic policy choices the right ones for Russia? The move from
communism to capitalism in Russia after 1991 was supposed to bring unprece-
dented prosperity. It did not. By the time of the rouble crisis of August 1998,
output had fallen by almost half and poverty had increased from 2% of the
population to over 40%.
Russias performance since then has been impressive [AP: article written in
2003], yet its gross domestic product remains almost 30% below what it was in
1990. At 4% growth per annum, it will take Russias economy another decade
to get back to where it was when communism collapsed.
JS: For the majority of those living in the former Soviet Union, economic
life under capitalism has been even worse than the old Communist leaders had
said it would be. Prospects for the future are bleak. The middle class has been
devastated, a system of crony and maa capitalism has been created.(...) The
pessimists see the country as a nuclear power wavering with political and social
instability. The optimists (!) see a semiauthoritarian leadership establishing
stability, but at the price of the loss of some democratic freedoms.
Shock therapy vs gradualism JS: The most contentious [debate] centered
on the speed of reform: some experts worried that if they did not privatize
quickly, creating a large group of people with a vested interest in capitalism,
there would be a reversion to communism. But others worried that if they
moved too quickly, the reforms would be a disaster(...). The former school was
called shock therapy, the latter gradualist(...).
The gradualist critics of shock therapy not only accurately predicted its failures
but also outlined the reasons why it would not work. Their only failure was to
underestimate the magnitude of the disaster.
Hyperination JS: Most prices were freed overnight in 1992, setting in mo-
tion an ination that wiped out savings.
R&S: Terrible ination in the rst years of reform (at least 300% in the month
of January alone, though declining to 800% annually in 1993 and then to only
22% in 1996) quickly wiped out the savings of millions, devalued salaries, and
made the pensions of the elderly worthless.
GDP free fall JS: The radical reform strategy did not work: GDP in post-
1989 Russia fell, year after year. What had been envisioned as a short transition
recession turned into a decade or more. The bottom never seemed in sight. The
devastation - the loss in GDP - was greater than Russia had suered in WW2.
In the period 1940-1946 the Soviet Union industrial production fell 24%. In the
period 1990-99, Russian industrial production fell by almost 60% - even greater
than the fall in GDP (54%).
Privatisation (State assets sold for nothing and cash pouring out
of the country) JS: Privatization, accompanied by the opening of the capi-
tal markets, led not to wealth creation but to asset stripping. It was perfectly
logical. An oligarch who has just been able to use political inuence to gar-
ner assets worth billions, after paying only a pittance, would naturally want to
get his money out of the country (...). Anyone smart enough to be a winner
in the privatization sweeptakes would be smart enough to put their money in
the booming US stock market, or into the safe haven of secretive oshore bank
accounts. It was not even a close call; and not surprisingly, billions poured out
of the country.
R&S: A second round of privatisation, which started in July 1994, has been
described by political scientist George Breslauer as one of the largest and most
blatant cases of plutocratic favoritism imaginable.
[AP: In December 1995 Khodorkovsky acquired 78% of Yukos shares for
kopecks (more on this later). Today Western media portrays Khodorkovsky as
a martyr of democracy.]
The 1998 IMF rescue package is stolen by the oligarchs JS: We felt
that it would take days or even weeks for the oligarchs to bleed the money out
of the country; it took merely hours and days(...) The IMF had lent Russia the
dollars - funds that allowed Russia, in turn, to give its oligarchs the dollars to
take out of the country. Some of us quipped that the IMF would have made
life easier all around if it had simply sent the money directly into the Swiss and
Cyprus bank accounts.
Violence [AP: Wikipedia: In 1990, the number of registered crime was 1.84
million. This gure increased to 2.8 million in 1993, then fell slightly. In 1996,
there were a total of 2.63 million ocially registered crimes, which was more
than 40% higher than in 1990. In 1999, total reported crime was 3 million, and
it continued to increase in 2000 and 2001, and then fall in 2002(...). In the rst
four months in 1994, Russia averaged 84 murders per day.
From the Committee to Protect Journalists data, almost 5 journalists a yea
rwere killed per year between 1992 and 1999 (less than 3 per year after 2000)].
Life expectancy JS: While in the rest of the world life spans were increasing
markedly, in Russia they were over three years shorter [AP: see graph].
Mark Adomanis: The death rate from accidental alcohol poisoning has been
shrinking rapidly over the past decade, and is now lower than it was even dur-
ing the height of Gorbachevs anti-alcohol campaign (source: Five Myths About
Russia, Forbes, 2013).
Poverty JS: In 1989, only 2% of those living in Russia were in poverty. By
late 1998, that number had soared to 23.8%, using the 2 dollars a day standard.
More than 40% of the country had had less than 4 dollars a day according to a
survey conducted by the World Bank [AP: see graph].
MS: Some peoples savings were spent on the purchase of just a few days worth
of food. It was not long before the sight of beggars on the street became com-
monplace and people were forced to sell possessions to feed their family.
Inequality JS: The Communist system, while it did not make for an easy life,
avoided the extremes of poverty, and kept living standards relatively equal, by
providing a high common denominator of quality for education, housing, health
care and child care services(...).
Russia today has a level of inequality comparable with the worst in the world(...)
A few friends of Yelstin became billionaires, but the country was unable to pay
pensioners their $15 a month pension.
Responsibility JS: While those in Russia must bear much of the blame for
what has happened, the Western advisers, especially from the US and the IMF,
who marched in so quickly to preach the gospel of the market economy, must
also take some blame(...).
Treasury claimed Russian economic as its own turf; turned aside any attempts
to have an open dialogue, either within government or outside; and stood stub-
bornly by its commitment to shock therapy and rapid privatization.(...) These
are complicated matters, and in democracies, they need to be debated and dis-
cussed. Russia was trying to do that, trying to open the discussion to dierent
voices. It was Washington - or more accurately, the IMF and the US Treasury -
that were afraid of democracy, that wanted to suppress the debate. I could not
but note, and feel sad about, the irony.
End of the experiment MS: The world economic crisis of 1998 cast harsh
light on Russias economic imbalance (...). By the end of the year, thousands
of people had lost their life savings as a series of banks collapsed; hundreds of
rms and businesses went under; ination hit 88% and shops were again left
with empty shelves. Demonstrators took to the streets of Moscow and other
big cities, demanding an end to the liberal economic reforms. Yelstin responded
by ring his prime minister and the government. He announced that the re-
forms were being suspended, and Russias experiment with Western-style liberal
democracy ground to a halt.
In August 1999, with no sign of the crisis abating, Yelstin appointed yet another
prime minister.
[AP: In Talbotts article, there was not a word about the damage caused by
shock therapy on the Russian people. Worse, he referred to it (in his conclusion)
in the following way: [Russian] people have had more than a taste of what its
like to live in a normal, modern country.]
4.2 Internal politics
September/October 1993 [AP: Following the disagreement on economic
policy between Yelstin and the Russian parliament, Yelstin decided, with the
backing of the West, to dissolve the Parliament. This was, however, unconstitu-
tional. The Parliament declared Yelstins decision null and Rutskoy (who was
Vice President) was proclaimed President. The crisis ended ten days later when
Yelstin order tanks to shell the parliament building].
MS: In 1991, the hardliners had hesitated to attack the White House, but Yel-
stin had no such scrupules. In the early hours of 4 October 1993, tanks of the
Russian army launched a sustained bombardment of the building and by mid
morning the upper storeys were on re. [AP: over these ten days, the number
of casualties was about 200 according to the government]
MS: The rebel parliamentarians were neither revanchists nor fascists. They
were not the Communist dinosaurs who led the August 1991 coup. These were
politicians who opposed the liberal reforms Yelstin was introducing in Russia,
and whose views, expressed in a democratic parliamentary forum, had been ig-
[AP: In his article, Talbott portrayed Yelstins opponents as reactionary
and revanchist foes, aggressive nostalgics, resurgent nationalists, Russian
militarists (and Putin is their heir)]
Democracy MS: When opposition to his policies reached boiling point in
1992, he demanded to extend his right to issue presidential decrees, bypassing
the scrutiny of parliament and allowing him to rule as a virtual dictator. The
prophet of democracy was reaching for the methods of the autocratic system he
had fought to overthrow(...).
In the aftermath of the 1993 events, Rutskoi and Khsabulatov were sent to
Concentrating so much power in the hands of the president, and the neutering
of parliament, left Russia with only a truncated version of the democracy Boris
Yelstin had once advocated.
The rst Chechnya war (1994-1996) [AP: Estimates for the number of
causalties is 80,000 civilians and 23,000 military in total. The total number of
casualties is higher than for the second Chechen war (and much higher when
looking at civilians only). I only quote these numbers because somehow the
Chechnya war is often associated with Putin rather than Yelstin. In his article,
Talbott mentions the second war (Putin was then Yelstins PM), but not the
rst war.]
The June/July 1996 elections [AP: In January 1996, Yelstin stood at 8%
in the polls, he was fth in the race for the presidential elections. However, the
olicharchs (who owned most of the media) joined forces (the Davos pact) to
make sure Yelstin would win the elections. Up to 2 billion dollars were raised
for Yelstins campaign, even though the legal limit was only 3 million].
MS: Two leading oligarchs,Vladimir Potanin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky,
proposed that Russias tycoons would lend the president the equivalent of 1.8
billion dollars. It would allow the Kremlin to reduce the backlog of salaries and
pensions and to oer a few economic sweeteners to the electorate. The oligarchs
would also undertake to swing the media behind the Yelstin campaign. But
Potanin and Khodorkovsky wanted much in return. As surety for their money,
they would require the government to put up the deeds to Russias remaining
state industries, including the key sectors of iron, steel, gas and oil. The scheme
would become known as loans for shares(...).
The infusion of cash and the blanket support of the media helped Yelstin surge
from disastrous poll numbers to beat the Communist Zyuganov in the second
round of elections in July 1996. The oligarchs then claimed their prize. In
September [AP: the term of the loan for shares 1995 operation], the state or-
ganised a series of very unusual auctions for the nationalised rms that had
been oered to the oligarchs as collateral for their loans. In each case, the
only bidder for the assets in question was the oligarch who had made the loan
to Yelstin before the election. Putanin picked up the countrys leading nickel
and aluminium company for kopecks; Berezovsky, with his partner and protege
Roman Abramovich, got the Sibneft oil company; and Khodorkovsky got a ma-
jority stake in the massive Yukos oil conglomerate, then Russias second largest
producer, for the knockdown price of 309 million dollars.
JS: The quiet acquiescence [of the IMF], if not outright support, to the
corrupt loans-for-share privatization was partially based on the fact that the
corruption too was for good purposes - to get Yelstin reelected. IMF policies
in these areas were inextricably linked to the political judgments of the Clinton
administrations Treasury.
4.3 Foreign policy
[AP: Here, we will see that much of the current Russian foreign policy took
its roots in the 90s (opposition to NATO enlargement, the near abroad, the
relationship with China and other Asian countries, the multipolar world view).]
NATO enlargement R&S: Another source of tensions was the plan to en-
large NATO into eastern Europe. Judged, with some reason, to be anti-Russian
as well as unnecessary, the move produced a strong negative reaction in Russia.
In March 1997, the Duma voted 300-1 against expansion, a rare example of
political unanimity in Russia.(...)
NATOs enlargement bolstered the arguments of Yelstinss anti-Western critics,
who insisted the West wanted a weakened Russia.
[AP: According to former US Defense Secretary William Perry, Russian re-
actions ranged from being unhappy to being very unhappy... This is a very
widely and very deeply held view in Russia]
Relation to former Soviet states R&S: Russia insisted that the former So-
viet space was properly within its own special sphere of inuence and referred
to it as the special near abroad.
[AP: February 1995: Collective Security Concept (in the CIS)
September 1995: concept of reintegrating the former Soviet region is rst artic-
ulated: The Establishment of the Strategic Course of the Russian Federation
with Member States of the CIS
March 1997: CIS Concept of Economic Integrational Development (to resist
Relationship with China and multipolar world view [AP: April 1996:
Creation of the Shangai Cooperation Organisation
April 1997: Russia and China signed the Joint Declaration on a Multipolar
Yugoslavia R&S: The conict in the former Yugoslavia further damaged
Russian-NATO, and especially Russian-US, relations (...). When the US bombed
Bosnian Serbs in 1994, though without UN sanction, for failing to respect UN
warnings, the Russians were furious, including at what was seen as the hypo-
critical unilateralism of the worlds one remaining superpower, which seemingly
did not have to follow the rules it set for others(...).
By the end of 1994, Yelstin was warning that a cold peace was replacing the
Cold War, and his foreign minister, Kozyrev, was soon to declare that the hon-
eymoon is over.
R&S: The Kosovo tragedy was a milestone(...). Arguing that violent atroc-
ities and ethnic cleansing made intervention necessary, NATO, led by the US
(again without UN sanction), bombed Serbia in March 1999. Both the public
and the government in Russia were outraged. Many argued that the US was the
main rogue state in the world, determined to intervene whenever and wherever
it wished. The liberals who had put their trust in the West were probably even
more upset than the nationalists, the conservatives, and the communists.
One way relationship Talbott [on Kosovo]: All that makes it even more ex-
traordinary that it was Yeltsin himself who helped bring the war to an end, and
on NATOs terms.(...). Chernomyrdin also agreed that Russian forces would
participate, under NATO, in an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
That was, from the Western standpoint, a vital condition to assure that there
would be no ambiguity over who had ultimate command.
R&S: In return for Russias cooperative relations with the Western powers,
Yelstin expected respect for Russias national interests and national pride (as
he said in his 1994 State of the Federation address) and nancial aid. On both
counts, Yelstin would be increasingly disappointed, making political criticisms
at home of Yelstins subservience before the West increasingly eective. As a
result, tensions in Russian relations with the Western powers, especially the US,
began to grow.
MS: At various times, Yelstin suggested that Russia could become a member
of the EU, the WTO and even NATO. But all his suggestions were rebued.
NATO continued its expansion into the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Eu-
rope, signing up Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic while leaving Russia
with little more than a cooperation agreement. Moscow became alarmed at
suggestions that former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, Georgia and the
Baltic states, might also be recruited.
By the end of the 90s, relations were frosty.
5 Conclusions
5.1 Stiglitz
JS: The hubris of those in the Clinton administration and the IMF, that they
could pick those to support, push reform programs that worked, and usher in
a new day for Russia, has been shown for what it was: the arrogant attempt
by those who knew little of the country, pursuing a narrow set of economic con-
ceptions, to change the course of history, an attempt that was doomed to failure.
JS: As the evidence of the failures mounted, and as it became increasingly
clear that the US had been backing the wrong horse, the US administration
tried even harder to clamp down on criticisms and public discussion(...)
I wish there had been an open debate about Americas Russian strategy at the
beginning of the Clinton administration, a debate more reective of the discus-
sion going on in the outside world, I believe that if Clinton had been confronted
with the arguments, he would have adopted a more balanced approach(...) But
as is so often the case, the president was never given a chance to hear the full
range of issues and views.
5.2 Talbotts narrative
Now that, thanks to Ostrow, Stligliz, Riasanovsky and Steinberg, and Sixsmith,
we have reminded ourselves of Russia in the 90s, lets turn to Talbotts article.
A central narrative in Talbotts article is that Yelstin opponents are the
heirs of the August 1991 coup, reactionary and revanchist foes, aggressive
nostalgics, resurgent nationalists, Russian militarists, and Putin is their
As Sixsmith stated (The rebel parliamentarians were neither revanchists nor
fascists. They were not the Communist dinosaurs who led the August 1991
coup. These were politicians who opposed the liberal reforms Yelstin was in-
troducing in Russia, and whose views, expressed in a democratic parliamentary
forum, had been ignored, Tabotts narrative is simply untrue.
The shock therapy was - understandably - extremely unpopular and Yelstins
main allies were the oligarchs (who controlled the media).
The description of Putin as an anti-Yelstin is not correct either: much of
what denes Putins foreign policy (opposition to NATO enlargement, multipo-
lar worldview, the near abroad and good relations with China) is not new.
While Yelstin is the hero in Talbotts article, Talbott does criticise him
strongly on one particular point: the heir he chose.
But, by the end of the 90s, [US-Russia] relations were frosty (MS): maybe
Yelstin had understood (nally!) that the shock therapy was a catastrophe, and
that the relationship was one way only?
Talbott gives a moving accound of Clintons words to Yelstin in the summer
of 2000: Boris, (...) youve got the trust of the people in your bones.. When
Yelstin resigned, his popularity was between 1% and 2% according to some polls.
5.3 Talbotts ideal Russia
Talbott has clearly and strongly stated his preference for the Russia of the 90s
to todays Russia.
We have looked back at Russia in the 90s in this article, and we can de-
duce a picture of Talbotts ideal Russia: a Russia in which poverty jumps from
2% to 40%, a Russia in which GDP falls down by 50%, a Russia in which life
expectancy falls, a Russia in which the population shrinks, a Russia in which
inequality becomes one of the worst in the world, a Russia in which people lose
all their savings and must sell their possessions to feed their families, a Russia
in which state assets are sold for peanuts to oligarchs who then move the money
abroad, a Russia in which tanks shell the parliament, a Russia witnessing the
largest and most blatant cases of plutocratic favoritism imaginable, a Russia
in which elections are rigged to keep an alcoholic in power so all this can go on.
In his article, Talbott talks of aggressive nostalgia for the past, but the
only person I see with such misplaced nostalgia is him.
5.4 After the 90s
Talbott cited Sare: The irony is that a Putin era would mean an uncompet-
itive, economically weakened Russia. All economic indicators show the exact
opposite (see graphs).
But lets look back at what Stiglitz wrote in 2003: At 4% growth per an-
num, it will take Russias economy another decade to get back to where it was
when communism collapsed. It took 3-4 years.
And in 2002, Stiglitz wrote But there is one factor essential to establish-
ing a good business climate, something which will prove particularly dicult
to achieve given what has happened over the past decade: political and social
stability(...) It will be dicult - and likely take considerable time - to reverse
the inequality that was created so quickly(...)
The optimists (!) see a semiauthoritarian leadership establishing stability, but
at the price of the loss of some democratic freedoms..
According to Stiglitzs prognosis, Putin has been the best case scenario for
Appendix A: Comments on Talbotts article
Here I dont want to discuss factual errors (such as Talbotts armation that
Crimea was not part of Soviet Russia before WW2): I want to concentrate on
Talbotts general view, his narrative, his arguments.
August 1991: a Keystone Kops performance of ineptitude, includ-
ing a public rollout of the putative new leadership in which the front
man, Gennady Yanayev, was visibly drunk Heres Sixsmith on Tal-
botts hero: A long history of heavy drinking had resulted in embarrassing
moments, including an alcohol-fuelled attempt to conduct a military band on
a visit to Germany, a tottering performance at a press conference with world
leaders, and a speach in which he read the same passage three times before
being alted by his aides.
December 1993 legislative elections The way Talbott describes the results
of these elections (that followed the September-October 1993 events in Moscow
during which the Russian White House (...) had been blown to pieces (MS),
when Yelstin had unconstitutionnaly dissolved the parliament) is worth noting:
Yeltsins enemies struck at him again, only this time by taking advantage of the
very reform that rst Gorbachev and then Yeltsin had embraced and beneted
from: democratization.. It would be interesting to hear Talbotts account of
the 1996 elections.
Putin the KGB ocer In many articles, one is reminded that Putin used
to work for the KGB. When George Bush Senior was president of the US, was
it reminded as often that he was the former director of the CIA?
In fact, I have found that many Westerners dont know this (but they all know
Putin worked for the KGB). This is strange, given that they know much more
about the US than they know about Russia.
Putin quotes The fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical
catastrophe of the century has been repeated countless times by people who
want us to believe that Putin wants to turn back the clock and restore the
Soviet Union.
As noted by Patrick Armstrong (see also The Penguin Russian Course), the
translation is a very great, not the greatest (at least, some people think so).
Indeed 25 million Russians woke up one day in a foreign country (note the way
Talbott mocks the people who drew attention to this situation: they mumbled,
growled, and sometimes screamed).
But more to the point, saying that it was a very great catastrophe does not
mean in any way that he wants to restore the Soviet Union.
Another Putin quote I have heard many times from Russians is very clear re-
garding this: Anyone who does not regret the collapse of the Soviet Union has
no heart, but anyone who wants it restored has no brain.
Russia has no right to be on friendly terms with her neighbours Tal-
bott: muzzled dissent, cracked down on the media, exiled or imprisoned those
who opposed him, courted China as a counterweight to the United States, and
did everything he could to lock the countries of the near abroad - fellow former
Soviet republics - into a Russian sphere of inuence. For Talbott, Russia try-
ing to establish friendly relations with her neighbours is comparible to muzzling
dissent, cracking down on the media, exiling or imprisoning opponents.
NATO threat vs Russia threat Talbott claims that it is Eastern European
countries who asked to join NATO (and it was hard to say no given the Russian
threat). Talbott doesnt mention the promise made by James Baker: not an
inch (and NATO enlargement - the term enlargement was coined by Jeremy
Rosner - was pushed by the US).
Also, using fear as an argument for aggression is not right: it is just a
way to justify aggression (a similar reasoning was used to justify the Iraq war:
a preventive war based on an imaginary fear: the 45 minutes claim and WMDs).
Finally, a NATO threat cannot be compared to a Russia threat (I am not
comparing military forces): Russia is a country, and NATO is a military alliance.
NATO is not a country, it doesnt even have to exist, and in fact since the
dissolution of the Varsaw Pact it lost its reason to exist: it should have been
dissolved instead of expanding.
In his 1996 Detroit speech Clinton said We are building a new NATO just as
you are building a new Russia: did he mean that Russia had a right to expand
On Crimea: It violates international law (...) and establishes a
precedent Following the Kosovo declaration of indepedence, the Interna-
tional Court of Justice declared that the adoption of the [unilateral] declaration
of independence of the 17 February 2008 did not violate general international
law because international law contains no prohibition on declarations of inde-
pendence. Putin then said Our position is extremely clear. Any resolution
on Kosovo should be approved by both sides. It is also clear that any resolution
on Kosovo will denitely set a precedent in international practice..
Russia reserves the right to protect our compatriots and fellow cit-
izens (Talbott criticizes Russias statement). Neo-nazis (First Right Sector
and Svaboda, then Dnipro battalion, Azov battalion and others) attacked mi-
norities in horric circumstances (Odessa massacre, but other places like Kras-
noarmeysk too). The logical response would be to stop this, to try protect these
minorities, not to accuse of ethnic geopolitics the ones who want to protect
the ethnic minority.
Talbott wants a weak Russia Talbott:the new Kremlin leader was bent
on developing a cult of personality suppressing the truth the resurgence of
Russian power.. Given what is in Talbotts list (cult of personality, suprressing
the truth), we can deduce that - for Talbott - Russia trying not to be weak is
The ultimate goal: the break up of Russia Talbott:Hes rolled back
democratization and enfranchisement of the regions..
Note also how recently some Western media described Artyum Loskutov as a
longtime advocate of Siberian identity and regionalism, when in fact he is
a comedy artist known for organising parodies of demonstrations called mon-
This reminded me of the extraordinary coverage of Pussy Riots Nadezhda
Tolokonnikova (a young Russian artist whose activities included participat-
ing in an orgy in the Moscow biology museum when over 8 months pregnant).
In that case the signal sent by Western media was Young Russians, if you go
against your government, we will make a star of you (see the section on Pussy
Riots in my article The Ukrainian crisis and recent Russophobia) .
NGOs (not mentioned explicitly in Talbotts article, but Russias policy on
NGOs is often cited as an example of crackdown on democracy) NED etc are -
strangely - called non governmental organisations, despite the fact that they are
funded by Congress. Besides, their ocial goal is to promote democracy, but
if we look at where they are implemented (not in countries like Saudi Arabia,
but in much more democratic countries where the US wouldnt mind a regime
change), we can deduce what their true objective is.
How democratic is it to spend time and money on trying to forment revolutions
in other countries?
Does a nation have the right not to have to do with such organisations?
Appendix B: My other articles on Ukraine and
My other articles on Russia and Ukraine can be found on scribd (better screen
denition if click on full view):
The Ukrainian crisis and on recent Russophobia:
National identities in Ukraine and in Euromaidan:
Appendix C: Graphs
Figure 1: Source: Mark Adomanis (Forbes article)
Figure 2: Source: Wikipedia
Figure 3: Male life expectancy in Russia. Source: Wikipedia.
Figure 4: Poverty ($4 a day). On the left of the graph is the year 1990 (no data
on the graph but it is 2%), in the middle of the graph is the year 2000, and on
the right of the graph is the year 2010. Data is reported on the graph for the
years 1993, 1996, 1999, 2001 and every year thereafter. Source: World Bank
Figure 5: Russia GDP.