Russia can only use the United States as an excuse for so long

December 29, 2015
Russian Matryoshka dolls decorated with images of U.S. President Barack Obama (R), his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev (C) and Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are seen on display at a market in Moscow July 3, 2009.  REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

This 2009 photo shows Russian matryoshka dolls decorated with images of President Barack Obama (R), then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (C) and Russia’s then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Sergei Guriev, Russia’s most prominent free market economist, left Moscow in 2013 for Paris, in fear of his liberty. He had publicly supported dissidents, criticized the administration’s policies, was an active and committed liberal, in politics as in economics. He produced, earlier this year, a 21st century equivalent of Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince”: a blueprint of how the modern autocrat rules, and remains.

Unlike the Florentine, though, Guriev isn’t recommending a course of action, he’s describing it; and he doesn’t believe it will be good for the state, but ruinous. If, in this and other writings and interviews, he’s right about the nature of Russia’s governance, his country is in for a bad crash. And when Russia in its present condition crashes, the world will shake.

The modern autocrat will often have regular elections (which he always wins), a parliament with an opposition (that isn’t a threat), and most of the institutions of a democratic society, such as a vaguely independent judicial system, “free” media and freedom of travel for citizens. Recent examples include the former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, the present prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan, the Chinese Communist Party and, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Some of the press will be critical; some demonstrations will be allowed; foreigners will come and go fairly freely. The autocrat will imprison some dissidents, crush some protests, censor some productions, websites, books. But it’s quite possible to live well enough since, as Guriev writes, “repression is not necessary.”

If – and this is a big if – “mass beliefs can be manipulated sufficiently by means of censorship, co-optation, and propaganda.” And the greatest of these is propaganda – because it fulfills a popular need, and isn’t felt by most as an imposition, but as a welcome underpinning in belief in the goodness of the state, the ruler – and of themselves. Russians, writes Arkady Ostrovsky in his recent “The Invention of Russia,” came to believe in themselves as a more moral people than Westerners – a long-held religious view, modernized, secularized and emphasized throughout the 15 years of Putin’s domination of Russian politics. Above all, they feel superior to Americans – the “propaganda feeds not on ignorance but on resentment…having an imagined but mighty enemy, America, makes people feel noble and good.”

Propaganda, TV shows and films constantly feeding a sense of national and self-worth, can, in the modern autocracy, substitute for prison camps and torture dungeons. But they cannot do so forever. In an interview this summer with Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute, Guriev agrees with Ostrovsky that “having an enemy as big as the U.S. is an explanation for falling living standards.”

The fall has produced wage cuts, unemployment and higher prices, but it has been cushioned by a large reserve fund. That’s being drawn down steadily: Guriev reckons it will be exhausted in under two years – and after that, a deluge.

The Russian president has received many Western plaudits — from the Republican candidate for presidential nomination Donald Trump, from Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front; while Alex Salmond, former first minister of Scotland, said that he had “restored a substantial part of Russian pride and that must be a good thing.” He’s credited with being a master tactician, alert to every Western weakness, whose realism has allowed him to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over chaos. Reluctantly, the United States has had to climb down from demanding Assad’s ouster so that the Western allies can, with Russia, concentrate on defeating Islamic State, the greater threat because of its enthusiastic sponsoring of terrorism.

But tactics get you so far. He can certainly tweak the American nose, painfully. But what’s the strategy?

It will have to be good – for under his leadership, Russia has found itself encircled with enemies, and uncertain friends. In the west, Ukraine – dismembered and bankrupt — is now, more than ever determined to carve out a future as a European state. Beyond Ukraine, Poland’s most powerful politician, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party Jaroslav Kaczynski — who picked and promoted both the  president, Andrzej Duda and the Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo —insists that the truth has not been told about the death of predecessor Lech Kaczynski. Kaczynski was killed when his Polish Air Force jet crashed in Russia on the way to Smolensk on April 10, 2010, and many in Poland blame a Russian conspiracy.

In the north, the Baltic states have troops from other NATO members stationed along their boarders as a warning to their giant neighbor. In the south, Turkey, once a friend, is now a despised lackey of the United States after its shooting down of a Russian fighter. In his end-of-year press conference, Putin said the country was “licking the U.S. in a certain place.” To the east, China is – according to Fu Ying, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Peoples’ Congress, “not an ally,” and it will not “form an anti-American bloc” with Russia — though relations are business-like, with trade much increased.

Of the other post-Soviet states, Moldova and Georgia are seeking Western alliances; China is wooing the Central Asians with much success, and even loyal Belarus is hedging its bets.

It could be different – and in an optimistic view, it might be. The accord reached between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this month might yet be built on a withdrawal of Russian military from Eastern Ukraine, a de-escalation of anti-Western propaganda, a search for common projects, a commitment from the European Union that Ukraine could have trade agreements with Russia as well as with the Union. All these could fundamentally alter the relationship between Russia, the EU and the United States.

But it’s unlikely. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Georgy Arbatov, the Communist regime’s main expert on the United States, said to the West that “we are going to do a terrible thing to you… to deprive you of an enemy.” The Putin regime has worked hard at reversing that terrible blow: and has helped create enmity once more, since it needs enemies for its legitimacy. It won’t want to let them go easily.


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How long can the unscrupulous conniving bankster-controlled U.S. government use Putin as a justification for its own villainy?

Posted by kenmay139 | Report as abusive

What about the anti-russian animosity in the western mainstream media? Being a regular reuters reader, I have yet to see at least a single positive coverage – of which I saw none in years. I am sure there is much more positive coverage of the US in Russia than vice versa. So – look in the mirror, please…

Posted by BraveNewWrld | Report as abusive

Are you normal? Why do you give a tribune to a communist like this one called John Lloyd? Don’t you know that every communist is a criminal? Why don’t you ask people in the so called Eastern or Soviet Block? It’s not ex-Soviet.
This Sergei M. Guriev’s father has been member of Communist party of USSR and a director on new technologies in the President of Russia’s administration!
Once a communist – always a communist. John Lloyd is such. Guriev – too.
Because our God teaches us: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
The West created the Communist doctrine and sent Lenin, Trotsky and their Bolsheviks with Old-Tastement names to ruin Russia.
Putin, Lloyd, Cameron – a KGB agent, Merkel – a red activist and Stasi agent, Yens Stoltenberg – a communist and a KGb agent named ‘Seklov’, Henry Kissinger – a KGB agent named ‘Bor’, Bernard Kouchner – member of the French Communist party, all the Brussels Bolshevik mafia, and this one Sergei Guriev, they all are in the Communist International leading humanity to extinction.
And who is owns the media? You can read this: “These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America” by Ashley Lutz, “Business Insider”,, New York City, June 14, 2012 г., online: orporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-a merica-2012-6
Don’t be fools. They are all communists now.

Posted by Ifandiev | Report as abusive

Interesting that the Russian paid troll comments here prove the writers point. I believe khodorkovsky once said that Russia is a huge unchangeable machine geared to govern in the voice of one master, glorifying the master even through the master’s driven genocide of his own citizens. Russia was designed to break from the beginning. This I believe is why most if not all Russians will describe Russians as cursed. 30 dollars per barrel of oil will be the hammer.

Posted by tribeUS | Report as abusive

Nice. Incidentally I believe you meant the homophonous “borders” in your eleventh paragraph.

Posted by Laster | Report as abusive

Propaganda indeed. Russia pays people to go on the Internet and comment on its greatness while badmouthing the US. Just see any article that has to do with Russia.

Posted by JeremyCrumb | Report as abusive

Why the west or the US has to be the best in the World about politics or culture. Russia never made any supportive effort of damaged for any society in Africa or the Middleeast. Russia is OK

Posted by Medialover17 | Report as abusive

I come from those areas, but some commenters have been nicely brainwashed if you feel that the west is a threat.

Posted by z7x | Report as abusive

When coming across such an article, I always vet the author. Believe this is Mr. Lloyd’s Wiki biography. _%28journalist%29 My rule is to look up the background, ‘think tanks’ and academic associations and related organizations behind a contributor, here or in FT, WSJ, NY Times, or Guardian UK. As long as I know the bias, I take the writer’s views at face value and adjust as I see fit. Journalism should be enlightening (you’d think!), almost a 3rd person point of view with no ‘dog in the fight,’ so to speak. But guess that wouldn’t be so interesting, though :)

Posted by SWBS41 | Report as abusive

It’s unsettling just how much of this also applies, through a slightly altered lens of oligarchy (as opposed to autocracy), right here at home.

Posted by mynrkt | Report as abusive

It’s unsettling just how much of this also applies, through a slightly altered lens of oligarchy (as opposed to autocracy), right here at home.

Posted by mynrkt | Report as abusive

Overly-complicated intrigue! Putin is certainly politically savvy within the Russian system, but his successes are more the outcome of high oil prices until recently, the distraction of the U.S. from the rise of the PRC on the world stage, (and in the U.S. face since early ‘2001), the entire time Putin has been in power, and, most importantly, the extremely weak, if not traitorous character and national security thinking and (in)actions of the obamanation, many other current and former Western leaders, and even the Bush empire’s and Clintons’ failure to put the nail in the communists’ coffins post-Soviet collapse, (as opposed to spending the supposed “peace dividend” on enlarging the U.S. federal bureaucracy, a pit nearly as black and bottomless in its gluttony as Putin’s/Russian leadership’s inferiority complex!
Putin’s agent obama is on his way out and the West, especially the U.S., has been awakened to Putin, so expect a re-set of the re-set in ‘2017, including actions against the evil empire’s clients, e.g. Iran. If oil’s collapse doesn’t wake up competing Russian players to oust Putin, there are certainly a lot of other forces that will work to that end, including ultimately the PRC, regardless of any covert alliance or détente they share.

Posted by W84itSuMore | Report as abusive

The author is a bit optimistic. Putin will be there as long as Uncle Sam keeps prodding the Russian bear, to which there will be no end. The US was born in adversity – with the Brits and the native Indians as enemies – so they can’t do without an enemy either.

Posted by teleflex | Report as abusive

Cognitive dissonance is on display here by those who label people as ‘paid trolls’ for simply posting an opposing viewpoint.

Posted by Nidster | Report as abusive

Obviously an imaginary piece of writing. When and if the Russian military shows up in Ukraine their done, finished, caput. As is the case in Syria, Russia has exposed the United Snakes, Turkey and the NATO gang of thieves as to what’s really going on there. The people of Crimea VOTED in mid-March 2014 to to secede from Ukraine and return to Russia. This guy obviously can’t get that straight. WESTERN PROPAGANDA continues,but will diminish only when the truth comes about. Horrible piece of writing.

Posted by cliffcollins | Report as abusive

“cognitive dissonance.. label people as ‘paid trolls’ for simply posting an opposing viewpoint ..”

You can only use this excuse so long as well.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

“Obviously an imaginary piece of writing. When and if the Russian military shows up in Ukraine their done, finished, caput. As is the case in Syria, Russia has exposed the United Snakes, Turkey and the NATO gang of thieves as to what’s really going on there. The people of Crimea VOTED in mid-March 2014 to to secede from Ukraine and return to Russia. This guy obviously can’t get that straight. WESTERN PROPAGANDA continues,but will diminish only when the truth comes about. Horrible piece of writing.”

The Russian Military already has showed up in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, the Russian government lied and later admitted that Russian Forces were in Crimea and in Luhansk and Donetsk, this was confirmed by the capture of numerous Russian soldiers by the Ukrainian military. Despite all its limitations and deficiencies, the Ukrainian Military is still here, they are holding the line. The Scottish Independence Referendum was free and fair, the referendums organized and held in Crimea, Luhansk and Donetsk had about as much legitimacy as a North Korean election.

Posted by Samantha-Rose | Report as abusive