For Russia, it can only get worse

By John Lloyd
April 28, 2014

Russians who disapprove of what their country is doing to Ukraine are a small and unpopular minority.

The boldest champion of dissent, Alexei Navalny, is under house arrest. He and his brother Oleg are awaiting trial for fraud involving the French company, Yves Rocher — which the company has denied ever happened. Pavel Durov, who founded and ran In Touch, Russia’s largest social network, has left the country after being fired from his position. Sergei Guriev, the former head of the New Economic School, the center of liberal economic thinking, fled Russia last year, fearing arrest.

Even with their backs against the wall, though, the liberals are feisty. They press their case that Russia is now hastening its own doom. I caught up with several of them at a conference outside of Moscow last week, organized by the Moscow School of Civic Enlightenment, a non-governmental organization focused on democratic and civic issues. (Full Disclosure: I have been on the Moscow School’s advisory committee for the three years).

They liberals I met were angry — certain that their country was heading for a disaster. They disagreed only about how deep that disaster would be. Some, like Arseny Roginsky, who helped found the Memorial Foundation, spoke of the need to relate current events to Russia’s Stalinist and post-Stalinist past, in which nearly 20 million people died in an atmosphere of repression. For the past determines both the present and the future.

Roginsky bemoaned the fact that his institution, founded to exhume the memories of the millions who perished under the Soviet regimes, has not succeeded in implanting in the contemporary Russian mind the need for memory. Russia, Roginsky said, has “not erected one plaque in Moscow which commemorates the places where mass murders happened.”

Others, like Guriev, who fled his country last summer fearing he would be arrested for his anti-regime activism, are more focused on the increasingly rocky economics that underpin Russia’s Ukrainian gamble. Speaking on a Skype connection from Paris, where he now lives, Guriev forecast an increasingly grim future for Russia — pressed by sanctions, deprived of investment and unable to access Western bank lending.

The current Russian government, headed by President Vladimir Putin, he said, lacks the means to fulfill its promises to the population for higher pensions and services. He predicted it will likely resort to repression and propaganda to safeguard its power.

Putin’s administration, buoyed by the strong public support for its actions in Crimea, where the majority are ethnic Russians, has not told the Russian people just how perilous Russia’s economic future is. Nor has the previous or current Ukrainian government, where, according to Guriev, the situation is now “horrendous.”

Yevgeny Yasin, a former minister of economics, said that Russian capital flight this year will amount to $150 billion or more — leeching away resources from what should be investment projects.

One of Russia’s leading pollsters, Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center, showed a series of graphs that gave a sharply alarming glimpse of the Russian public mind. The public was revealed as strongly anti-Western in general and anti-American in particular and deeply attached to the Putin administration. People are proud of Moscow’s military successes in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea today. They are also decidedly nationalistic.

Yet in spite of the present high popularity of the state leaders, in Moscow,” Gudkov said, “74 percent say they feel fear and have negative feelings. This goes hand-in-hand with a feeling of helplessness — that you are incomplete and can’t influence anything. They don’t even want to do so. They think it’s dangerous, useless.”

It is difficult to evaluate this Russia. It’s never looked more “Western” or “global,” with chains of clothing stores, fast-food restaurants and prestige car dealerships. Yet it’s never been more anti-Western in sentiment, with distrust amounting to hatred of both foreigners and immigrants.

To the outsider these attitudes seem overheated. Yet Gudkov’s graphs show that Russian nationalism is espoused even by the highly educated, the powerful, the upwardly mobile and the intelligentsia — once key sources of liberal thinking.

This extraordinary switch in attitudes prompted Yevgeny Gontmakher, deputy director of the Institute of the World Economy at the Academy of Sciences, to argue that Russia is fundamentally unable to survive future shocks. Its public mood is fragile and its dependence on strong growth is now being denied.

“See what is happening in Greece,” said Gontmakher, “If that happened in Russia we couldn’t go through it peacefully. There were demonstrations and extremists and riots, but [the Greeks] understand that the market economy and democracy is better than anything else. They want to stay within the realm of a civilized society.”

Does Russia want the same? The question is behind the deep pessimism of the liberals. They forecast not just economic turmoil, but political repression.

Russia’s current course may mark a return if not to Stalinism — to a Soviet-level of suspicion, discrimination and repression.

I’m writing this while waiting for a friend in the foyer of one of the seven “wedding cake” buildings in central Moscow, now a Radisson, with music tinkling and a line of Mercedes waiting outside. It is tempting to put Russia’s current condition down to overheated disappointment in an anti-liberal government.

But the Russian liberals live here and I no longer do. The alienation from their country and fear of its rulers are palpable. Besides, no amount of Mercedes can guarantee a civil society if enough people care so little for it.

PHOTO: Russian soldiers march during a rehearsal for a May 9 victory parade in Dvortsovaya Square in St. Petersburg April 28, 2014. Russia prepares to mark the 69th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two on May 9. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

25 comments

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Interesting. It seems the “liberals” in Russia want growth of capital, investment and a free economy. I wish the liberals in America were that smart!

Posted by beofaction | Report as abusive

“74 percent say they feel fear and have negative feelings.”

Whoop-de-doo. You’d get similar numbers from Americans.

Those “liberals” are laboring under some serious delusions. Like Greece is on the right path. Well, sure it is, if you think that politically-motivated prosecution of the only truly pro-Greek party is fine and dandy.

Or like nationalism is a bad thing. Well, lots of folks — even “educated” ones — are thinking it’s a good thing, that their borders mean something, and that their national identities are worth preserving. Their numbers are growing. Sorry guys.

And John’s “full disclosure”? Yeah, big surprise there.

Posted by Zeken | Report as abusive

We (Bush) should never have looked into Putin’s eyeballs, as we never did see his black heart. It seems for years the west had been sucking up to Putin and helped nurture his pharaoh thinking. He is an ass was always an ass and should not have been president for a third time, it was against the country’s constitution
I have been to Russia and was upset with Russian who had nostalgia for Stalin. they need to know the costs involved and particularly to their economy

Posted by thoma | Report as abusive

The USA screwed Iraq and just today…. 50 died in IRAQ from some bomb…. Who do we put sanctions on the bloody USA?

Posted by Fadeaway1232 | Report as abusive

This is the same guy that danced a verbal jig at the deaths of innocent people in the Volgograd bombings of last year. For Russia it can ‘only get worse’? You might be right. Because that level of ‘journalism’ couldn’t possible get worse.

Posted by MWA33 | Report as abusive

Unfortunately Russian “liberalism” ends where the Ukrainian question begins. Some truly enlightened Russian friends (very few) told me some of their affluent and highly educated friends and colleagues who fled Russia in disgust to have a more “civilized” life in the West nonetheless are DELIGHTED by Putin’s intrusions into Ukraine because they hope it will “put an end” to Ukrainian “separatism.” In other words, they fled the danger of being slaves to a malign system but are quite happy to assign their neighbors to it in the name of Russian “glory.” Here we enter the realm of not only of hypocrisy, but psychosis as well.

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive

So how would Mr Lloyd and commenters like “bluepanther” and “thoma” qualify the aggression, rape, destruction brought upon Iraq by the United States of America? I mean compared with that amzing aggression brought upon Crimea by Russia. Please do compare the two in your weak mindlings.

Delusional bomber-jackets monkeys. Steve Bell can paint your full portraits in one drawing:
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_Qy4iftwk5JM/Rk ymQDLkkTI/AAAAAAAAAvk/NA9THwefaDo/s400/2 bell.jpg

Posted by mcanterel | Report as abusive

In its unannounced war against Ukraine, Russia relies on covert operations which fall squarely within the definition of “international terrorism” under 18 U.S.C. § 2331.
This activity is being conducted on large scale and over prolonged time period, despite condemnation by the USA, G-7, NATO, EU and UN.
Please sign the petition urging the White House to officially designate Russia as “State sponsor of terrorism” – go to the website of the White House and click Petitions.
Such status of country would outlaw business of American companies with Russia. Even considering of the petition by Senate and President of USA creating great inconvenience Russian authorities.

Posted by WiktorProts | Report as abusive

Massive, out of control third world migration / colonization. Disastrously low indigenous birth rates. Economies primarily based on real estate valuation and fiat currency manipulation.
Oh yes, the future is so vibrant and bright for the USA and Western Europe.

Posted by sammwise | Report as abusive

On the contrary, it can only get better. The US did for Russia in six weeks what Putin had not been able to achieve in as many years. After spending $5Billion it unified Russians behind their government. Bolshoi Spasibo, Dyadya Sam!!

Posted by pyanitsa | Report as abusive

@mcanterel,

You seem to have had your head in the sand when Saddam invaded Kuwait and, after being warned and not leaving, had his murderers of aggression and rapist military kicked out and utterly massacred on the “road of death”. Don’t even bother trying to frame the people of Iraq, who can’t even live with EACH OTHER. As they court Iran’s favor and are clearly too stupid to understand how to harness their democracy to their advantage, for THEM it can only get worse.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Let’s see:
a) Putin now has an approval rating in Russia twice that of Obama in the U.S.
b) Nearly 30% of the money that we lend or give to Ukraine must make its way to Russia as either interest payments to banks (via Austria and Italy), or higher prices to gazprom. No payment, no gas; no interest, cratered Austrian bank.
c) W. Ukraine has now lost its major market for agricultural exports.
d) E. Ukraine is losing it sole market for export of its industrial steel products.
e) Ukraine is bankrupt, and the U.S. is very visibly on the hook for making it whole (delta cost $1 TRILLION), or being blamed for destroying it.
f) China and Russia are being driven together to create a huge separate trading block, which we will have no influence over. Last I heard, the Chinese had money to loan (oh my, does that mean U.S. interest rates go up?).
g) London banks are taking little or no action against Russian customers.
h) German factories are taking little or no action against Russian customers.
i) Ukraine military is either spying for Russia, deserting to Russia, trying to not get involved in fighting Russia, or trying to buy parts (from Russia) for their dilapidated equipment.
j) Unemployment in Ukraine is now higher than employment.
k) The government in Kiev can either hold elections in Crimea and DonBas, which they will lose, or they can not allow them to vote, which ratifies their separation.

I could go on, but I’ll summarize that I doubt that Putin loses much sleep on who comes out the winner on this. At every turn, the U.S. has miscalculated. And at 9 hrs drive from Germany, this doesn’t get buried in the press like Afghanistan or Iraq.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

According to this text, it seams that the USA is feeding Russian population and once the US imposes all possible sanctions the Russian folk will not have food, technology for defence and maybe electricity. Is Russia really that dependant on US economy and dollar? I believe what Russians have already historically experienced and still won over very strong and well organised enemies – that these western sanctions might hit hardest the west actually. Russia is big energy exporter – and it is enough to seek payments for its energy in Rubbles – and thus weaken dollar. Further, there might be some truth in this text that we all might be sorry – where Russian well spending tourists will not be present in the west any longer. There is some stronger control imposed within Russia, and yes, people feel that scrutiny of the police-state is more present than before – but I think that Mr Putin exactly want this – to strengthen Russian production and increase export while decrease import of western goods. It is not “healthy” for western nations to have an enemy in Russia but friend and partner.

Posted by Govornik | Report as abusive

@OneOfTheSheep, laughably pretending to ignore the 2006 invasion of a sovereign nation named Iraq? No matter what you think of its people or its rulers.

One of the sheep, indeed.

Posted by mcanterel | Report as abusive

Obviously meant “2003 invasion” and not “2006″.

Posted by mcanterel | Report as abusive

John Lloyd has once more produced a piece of mythology about Russia. His arguments are so disingenuous that they do not even deserve refutation.

Posted by Denouncer | Report as abusive

This is just my suspicion, but it looks like Reuter’s comments area is being infiltrated by some Russian govt. hacks. I’m all for honest discussion, but some of the things said on here are such over-the-top red herrings that it’s hard to believe otherwise.
The author is merely pointing out some of the future hardships Russia is inviting by its conduct in the Ukraine. And by Russia, he means its ruling elite, which imo have no interest in the welfare of the common citizenry, and as the author states, who have very little avenue to express themselves.

Posted by keenan77 | Report as abusive

On the contrary, it will be a lot worse for Russia if it sits back and lets the US do whatever it wants in the very cradle of the Russian nation.
Luckily for Russia the tick paralysis of the Yeltsin years is long over.

Posted by HeroinofKosova | Report as abusive

Meh, I still stand by my Russian govt. hack comment.

Posted by keenan77 | Report as abusive

Just say Russia has too many weapons of mass destruction and bomb it. Is that simple. You will get it right this time. It does have WMD.

Posted by junkit | Report as abusive

This ‘Putin hack’s’ family comes from far western Ukraine, and I know people on both side personally. Refute ANY of the points I made. We screwed up, and we are going to leave Ukraine in an even bigger mess than it was. The Brit-American media is just flat out lying about what is going on over there, and has since the beginning.

This administration’s actions have been just plain reckless. There was discontent with the poverty and corruption, and we stepped in and poured dollars around until it became an East-West confrontation. I am NO fan of Putin. He is a KGB thug that came to power over the bodies of people that he is easily cynical enough to have killed to create the crisis that brought him to power. None-the-less, we have matched and exceeded his cynicism with our own, but we are, as usual, stunningly incompetent at it.

Since this thing started last year the White House, via Reuters, et al, have been screaming about a Russian invasion, that still hasn’t come. He doesn’t need to, and unless we intend to pour in many billions of Euros and dollars for many years, he never will. He can win this without firing a shot. Get off of Reuters and go to der speigel or any of the European press, and you will get a very different story than the one being spun by Obama. This is not Sudetenland in 1938, this is Ukraine in 2014. Is is far more dangerous to misunderstand history than it is to forget it.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Another incredibly ultra- RUSSOPHOBIC, almost hysterical and utterly propagandist pile of … lies. So typical of so-called western media, Goebels would be proud… or maybe even he would be ashamed? But not you.

How dare those evil, eeevil ruskies to support Russians in Ukraine against ILLEGAL NAZI PUTSCHISTS, sorry nice little cute human rights activists, who overthrowed the only legal president in bloody coup, supported and funded by US (and their puny vassals like UK and Poland)? I mean they are not ‘Arsenal of democracy’ & ‘Beacon of freedom’ to arm every terrorist in the world from Afghanistan to Syria, they should silently watch as Bandera’s fans butchering innocent russian civilians, like they did in ’40s.. then they were Hitler’s dogs, now they are Obamas…

But don’t worry you friendly ‘ukraindians’ or whatever your tribe name is, NATO will give you their full dirty media support, rusty junk weaponary from Irqa and Nam, they’ll give you more Nulands cookies, and bombs, plenty of bombs, so go slaughter your brothers, your neighbors, people you share same culture, history, tradition, similar if not identical language, names and religion… until your country becomes another Syria-style battlefield/desert, proving grund for US drones, cheap entertainment & newest reality show for domestic fat tv auditoria, kill each other until your trun your country into a graveyard.. graveyard owned by MMF, yankee tycoons and their native puppet politicians & chieftains… and if you fail, then NATO brave soldiers, supported with eastern puppets (just like hitler) will finally launch another crusade in defence of western civilization and to stop russian expansion forever, because if you don’t stop them 5km from Moscow they will soon conquer our freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee world. So free, just look at ‘our’ media’.

Disgusting.

Posted by Hamzo | Report as abusive

I love these Russian delusions. Fed on vodka perhaps. The quality of pro Kremlin comments is at an all time low.

Posted by nickir | Report as abusive

Putin blinked today and tonight militants in Russia have tears in their eyes. The trolls are all choked up because earlier today, in meetings with representatives of Germany, Poland, great Britain and everyone else concerned, both Canada and the US agreed to supply oil to members who might need it, should Russia reduce flows, increase prices or withhold product.

We just like to re-assure our European partners that we’re there for them if they need us.

Take care, from Canada

Posted by CdnLady4 | Report as abusive