The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

‘Post-Communist’ Russia and China remain remarkably the same

For a Russian to live in Beijing is to experience time travel. Things long gone in Russia, or stuffed into kitschy theme bars to draw tourists, still appear in China with no sense of irony. There are endless displays of hammer-and-sickles, Red stars, and exhortations to Obey the Communist Party. There’s the rhetorical deification of the worker and the peasant. “Public-security volunteers,” elderly men and women with red arm-bands and a lot of time on their hands, lounge on little folding stools, sizing up passers-by. There are five-year plans, and front-page headlines screaming “Socialist path reaffirmed”.  I thought I left all of this in the 1980s’ Leningrad. But no, it’s all still here in Beijing, instantly recognizable even behind Chinese characters that give it  a new spin. All of which makes it tempting to think how  Russia and China have changed over the last 20 years.

But in fact the opposite is true: their political systems  remain remarkably similar. Both ditched Communism a while back. The only difference is Russia ditched the trappings while China held onto them. The system that emerged in both places operates with fewer overt ideological constraints but with a singular mission: the self-perpetuation of the ruling elite.

Oddly enough, the Chinese version might be slightly more pluralistic than the Russian one because Beijing focuses on the preservation of power in the hands of one party, while Moscow is obsessed with the preservation of power in the hands of one man. The Chinese have a history of tightly choreographed handovers of power from one crop of party leaders to the next. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has been able to give the appearance of letting go of power only when he knows it’s coming straight back to him.

Behind their authoritarian facades, both Moscow and Beijing took pains to construct elaborate simulacrums of democracy, with parliaments and political parties furiously blowing smoke to keep the ruse alive. And so, in mid-March in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, nearly 3,000 parliamentarians elected Xi Jinping China’s new president. Only one person voted “no,” prompting speculation that the lone naysayer may have been the humble Xi himself. A year earlier, Russians had gone to the polls in a similarly superfluous electoral exercise that restored Putin to the Kremlin throne. That outcome had been pre-determined much earlier when Putin, inconvenienced by term limits, loaned the presidency to a figurehead – mentee Dmitry Medvedev -- with the understanding it would be returned to him at the earliest legal opportunity.

from The Great Debate:

Obama, Romney missing the point on Libya

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney in Monday's foreign policy debate are again likely to examine the administration’s handling of an Islamic militia’s murderous attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its significance for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, they may again miss the crucial question raised by the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans: Why is Libya at the mercy of hundreds of lawless militias and without a functioning state one year after U.S. and NATO support enabled rebels to overthrow dictator Muammar Ghadaffi?

from The Great Debate:

The great paradox of Hobsbawm’s choice

The words “communist” and “socialist” are now used so recklessly in the United States that their meaning has been devalued. But Eric Hobsbawm, the British historian who died Oct. 1, was the real deal.

Born in 1917, the year of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Hobsbawm used Karl Marx as the inspiration for both his personal politics and his successful transformation of our understanding of history. He was an unabashed and unwavering supporter of communism in theory and practice, who only let his party membership lapse at the final moment, when the Berlin Wall fell.

from The Great Debate:

How should liberal democracies deal with China and Russia?

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we face a new challenge: how to conserve liberal freedoms once our citizens feel safe enough to take them for granted. Totalitarianism of the left and right, which defined liberalism throughout the 20th century, is no longer there to remind us how precious freedom is. It is up to us all to remember who we are, why liberty matters, why it is a discipline worth keeping to, even when our own sinews tell us to relax.

Today, liberal democracy’s decisive encounter is with post-communist oligarchies – Russia and China – that have no ideology other than enrichment and are recalcitrant to the global order. Predatory on their own societies, Russia and China depend for their stability, not on institutions, since there are none that are independent of the ruling elite, but on growth itself, on the capacity of the economic machine to distribute enough riches to enough people. They are regimes whose legitimacy is akin to that of a bicyclist on a bicycle. As long as they keep pedaling, they keep moving; if they stop, they fall off.

from The Great Debate:

Stop the pointless demonization of Putin

American media coverage of Vladimir Putin, who today began his third term as Russia's president and 13th year as its leader, has so demonized him that the result may be to endanger U.S. national security.

For nearly 10 years, mainstream press reporting, editorials and op-ed articles have increasingly portrayed Putin as a czar-like "autocrat," or alternatively a "KGB thug," who imposed a "rollback of democratic reforms" under way in Russia when he succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president in 2000. He installed instead a "venal regime" that has permitted "corruptionism," encouraged the assassination of a "growing number" of journalists and carried out the "killing of political opponents." Not infrequently, Putin is compared to Saddam Hussein and even Stalin.

Russia’s Ekaterinburg – model for growth?

–Denis Manturov is Acting Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation. The opinions expressed are his own.–

President Putin recently noted that Russia has emerged from the global financial crisis in a stronger position than before, and that average wages will increase by 60% by the year 2020. Traditionally, many people think of Russia as a provider of natural resources, and increasingly as a safe pair of hands for mega-events, such as the upcoming Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, the Formula 1 Grand Prix from 2014, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Today the Russian economy is the sixth largest in the world, with an output which may potentially exceed US$ 2 trillion in 2012. Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 4.2 per cent in 2011, making the country the third fastest growing economy after China and India.

from The Great Debate:

Was a Putin mentor poisoned?

Excerpted from The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen, by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © 2012 by Masha Gessen.

Encouraged by his former deputy’s meteoric rise, former St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak decided to end his Paris exile and go back to Russia in the summer of 1999. He returned full of hope and even more full of ambition. As Sobchak was leaving Paris, Arkady Vaksberg, a forensics specialist turned investigative reporter and author with whom Sobchak had become friendly during his years in France, asked him whether he hoped to return to Paris as an ambassador. “Higher than that,” replied Sobchak. Vaksberg was sure the former mayor was aiming for the foreign minister’s seat: the rumor in Moscow’s political circles was that Sobchak would head up the Constitutional Court, the most important court in the country.

from Ian Bremmer:

Prokhorov’s presidential chances are not the point

By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.

After a week full of anti-government and pro-government protests, Russians woke up on Monday to big news. Mikhail Prokhorov, a political novice with billions of dollars—and the New Jersey Nets— to his name, announced his Presidential bid.  Alexei Kudrin, a longtime bureaucratic infighter, also declared his plans to re-enter the political arena. These developments were even more significant considering both were ousted in rather public quarrels with the powers that be just months ago. Kudrin said he would support and aid a pro-reform liberal party that would stand as a counterweight to the incumbent United Russia. Prokhorov intends to challenge Putin for the presidency in March 2012 on a platform that would appeal to Russia’s “disenchanted middle class.”

No matter what Kudrin and Prokhorov say in public, they both represent the same thing to Russia and the world: Vladimir Putin’s iron grip on power. As I’ve written before, Putin is the most powerful individual on the planet. To think that either man would risk his freedom or his fortune to oppose Putin’s Kremlin, no matter what their stated reasons are, is just wrong. That said, there are reasons to watch this “race” as it will give some insight into Putin’s inevitable third term as president.

from The Great Debate:

Why is Obama giving Libya to the Russians?

By John Bolton
The opinions expressed are his own.

With President Obama’s Libya policy staggering from one embarrassment to another, last week he and Secretary of State Clinton outdid themselves. They publicly welcomed Russia’s effort to insert itself as a mediator, an act of such strategic myopia that it must leave even Moscow’s leadership speechless.

Permanent Security Council members Russia and China abstained on the initial resolution authorizing force to create a Libya no-fly zone and to protect innocent civilians. By not casting a veto, Russia thereby tacitly allowed military action to proceed. As they did, Russia repeatedly second-guessed and harshly criticized NATO’s operations. Now, as a mediator, Russia will, in effect, have the chance to rewrite the Council’s resolution according to its own lights.

from MacroScope:

Give me liberty and give me cash!

Come back Mr Fukuyama, all is forgiven.

In his 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man", American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that all states were moving inexorably towards liberal democracy. His thesis that democracy is the pinnacle of political evolution has since been challenged by the violent eruption of radical Islam as well as the economic success of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia.

Now a study by Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital into the link between economic wealth and democracy seems to back Fukuyama.

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