Russia After Communism - Bridget Kendall MBE



in this lecture as Richard said we're going to look at Russia after communism how did Russia fare when the Soviet Union disappeared and how far has today's Russia have been able to put the legacy of its Soviet past behind it and how far does the country its leaders and its people still live in its shadows now whereas the first three lectures were from distinguished historians my approach is slightly different as a journalist and at times an eyewitness to some of the events will be charting where appropriate I'll draw on my own experience and before we get to Russia after communism I just like to roll the clock back a bit to the lead-up to the Soviet collapse to explore why it happened the way it did and what it felt like at the time because one of the most surprising things about the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 was that yes this was a cataclysmic event in historical terms the demise of a far-reaching communist Empire the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a newly independent Russia and yes the moment of transition was literally marked by explosions a massive fireworks display lighting up the night sky around the Kremlin just as midnight struck as on December 31st 1991 but actually the event when it came was almost an anti-climax the old Soviet Union disappeared not with a bang but a whimper state collapse had come to seem almost inevitable the inescapable outcome of a steadily deepening economic political and social degradation it was of course the decision to elect Mikhail Gorbachev as Kremlin leader in March 1985 which set in train the final act of the drama that was the end of the Soviet Union as Professor Polly Jones in her aggression lecture said his initial perestroika aim was not to sweep away the Soviet Union at all but to revitalize a moribund and dysfunctional system to begin with he and his aides had only an inkling of the problem it was only when they got past the extravagant rhetorical claims of thus of the Soviet Union and read the secret Politburo Papers which exposed how rotten the country's economy was that they realized much deeper reforms were going to be needed I remember Alexander Yakovlev one of Gorbachev's closest allies in the Politburo at the time telling me that he was like peeling an onion you took off one layer and then stripped off another and another and then found that all you were left to it that the core was a tangle of Lies and corrupt practices what's more in 1985 Goff had personal reasons to seek evolutionary rather than revolutionary change Moscow University in the 1950s of his closest student friends was a young Czech called stenick Molina who later went on to be one of the leading figures of the Prague Spring that socialist reform movement in Czechoslovakia which in 1968 was suppressed by a Soviet ledge invasion years later I interviewed Gorbachev for a TV documentary and he confessed that the crashing of the Prague Spring in 1968 had left him sick to his stomach and it had convinced him that any future reform in his own country could only succeed if it was done cautiously step-by-step to avoid a violent backlash from reform opponents in the martyr party leadership so when Gorbachev came to power his approach was a deft game of brinksmanship which is in fact a balancing act keeping the communist old guard on board by convincing them that some updating of the system was in their interest while fueling a popular appetite for change from below by lifting the lid on censorship his policy known as gluttonous or openness in effect his idea was to enlist the people's support to strengthen his position against his own skeptical colleagues in the Soviet Politburo and other conservative communist leaders in Eastern Europe but gorgeous attempts to proceed slowly didn't work not only had he and his fellow Kremlin reformers underestimated the depth of the country's economic problems they had not reckoned on the extent of popular disillusionment with the Communist Party and its 70-year monopoly on power both in the Soviet clients eight states of Eastern Europe where discontent simmered barely concealed beneath the surface and in the Soviet Union's own increasingly restless republics and eventually even in Russia itself a challenge which was to become an existential battle for the Soviet Union's kin you'd survival ironically given the decades of suspicion and hostility between the Cold War rivals what proved easier to manage was embarking on a new era of international relations and in particular a series of groundbreaking arms deals with the United States to slash back stockpiles of nuclear weapons the first superpower summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and the American President Ronald Reagan took place in 1985 almost immediately several more followed and were continued by the next u.s. president george h bush and these summits were about much more than nuclear weapons personal contacts between the leaders and other Soviet as senior officials broke down years of mistrust on both sides and opened the doors to other sorts of collaboration one perhaps lesser-known aspect of these contacts was that it proved to be a way to help Gorbachev better understand the mechanisms of a modern market economy something his education based on a Marxist Leninist economic theory had left him ill-prepared for President Reagan's Secretary of State at the time was George Shultz a professor of national international economics as from Stanford University in California and he once told me that on his many visits to the Kremlin to prepare summits he used to take he took to taking flow charts and diagrams that he used in his students seminars to illustrate to an eager Gorbachev how global macro economics and international trade patterns worked the story of the warming up of east-west relations was at the time expressed above all as a moral imperative the mutual obligation of the two Cold War superpowers who between them held more than 90 percent of all nuclear weapons to work together to pull the world back from the danger of a nuclear conflagration but on the Kremlin side it was of course also driven by economics the Soviet Union had to reduce its military expenditure the cost of an escalating arms race recently ramped up by President Reagan was unaffordable especially if Gorbachev was to have a hope of tackling that darh in efficiencies and shortages which left Soviet consumers so frustrated and the country needed to catch up with the West logically in the late-1980s some of you may remember the United States and Europe were moving towards personal computers and mobile phones but Russian shopkeepers were still tossing up bills on abacuses and the Soviet oil lakes in Western Siberia which since the 1950s had been an easy source of domestic energy and a crucial source of export revenues were beginning to run dry deeper drilling and an injection of foreign know-how were urgently needed added to the economic pressure the global oil price also dropped reducing the amount of foreign currency coming in to the government's coffers to this day a vulnerability which periodically shakes the Russian economy it's worth noting that the narrative you hear from anti Western commentators in Russia today about the 1980s is that Gorge off was hoodwinked by the Americans and other Western leaders into pursuing policies that odds with the Soviet national interest the argument goes that the real aim of the West deniz now was not to help the Soviet Union sort out its problems but find ways to weaken and ultimately destroy it the ramping up of the arms race the push for liberalisation even the drop in the oil price it's claimed were all engineered to lead the country to collapse and Gorbachev was an idiot for going along with it in fact the United States in particular had a lot invested in supporting Gorbachev and keeping the Soviet Union going not least because if the Soviet Union disappeared what guarantees would the be that any new leader would adhere to all those carefully crafted arms control treaties in the summer of 1991 George H Bush even traveled to Lithuania and Ukraine to urge the growing nationalist movements there not to break ties with Moscow he's appealed to people in the Ukraine to stay inside the Soviet Union is known as his chicken Kiev speech it was in the Baltic States that the first serious cracks in the Soviet edifice emerged these three tiny republics have been occupied and then annexed by the Soviet Union during World War two and always maintained an independence of spirit and a reluctance to see themselves as part of the Soviet Union in August 1989 we can see the picture here citizens from all three countries joined hands to form a long human chain stretching hundreds of miles from Estonia in the north through Latvia to Lithuania in the south just one of many mass protests against what they claimed was an illegal Soviet occupation I went to coverage and I remember it was absolutely impossible to work out if the chain really did join up all the way along they said it did but we have to take their word for it the campaign for independence was reinforced by what happened in Eastern Europe in late 1989 as you'll all remember the Berlin Wall came down and before long Eastern European communist governments were being replaced by non communists he swiftly opted to leave Moscow's Security Alliance the Warsaw Pact and turn their country westwards Gorbachev rejecting the Brezhnev Doctrine which had led to the Soviet Union to crush the Prague Spring in 1968 made it very clear he was not prepared to use force in Eastern Europe his foreign policy spokesman gennady grass Amith who used to brief us every day joked that now there was a furniture doctrine because each country was being told it could decide its future course for itself and do it my way like the Frank Sinatra song if Gorbachev had thought that might then follow a slow loosening of ties which should allow for a new pan security umbrella to emerge across East and West Europe a new European home as he used to call it Northern Europe s key thumb he was mistaken instead Soviet power and influence in Eastern Europe evaporated precipitously Gorbachev did do a deal with the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to accept German unification in return for West Germany helping to fund the repatriation of Soviet troops but the issue of the future of European security remained contentious and Gorbachev subsequently and on more than one occasion complained a complaint that Vladimir Putin has taken up that NATO leaders have promised him that the Alliance wouldn't extend westward the Americans say there were no firm commitments whatever was promised or not promised over the next decades as we know NATO enlargement did indeed take place to meet the demands first of Eastern European nations and then the Baltic states to be allowed under the NATO umbrella partly out of fear that one day they might need protecting against a resurgent Russia and at one point when George W Bush was president the possibility of NATO membership was even dangled in front of the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine to the anger of Moscow the result being the issue is now a major point of disagreement between Russia and the West but of course in those chaotic days of Soviet collapse just predicting what might happen next week let alone years later was all but impossible not everyone saw the implosion in Europe coming Vladimir Putin then a KGB officer in Dresden in East Germany was one of those caught out in his autobiography first person he describes how he and a colleague burnt classified documents day and night fearing that a lynch mob might break in and confiscate the secret material and in their fluster to destroy it all as quickly as possible they even managed to set the furnace on fire so this glimpse of a frantic young KGB officer wrong-footed by events which seemed to come out of nowhere to destroy his country and his own professional career – if I think instructive it helped explains why later President Putin was to call the breakup of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century and it was an early incident which probably helped underpin his latest suspicions of popular revolts in Georgia and Ukraine as well as the Arab uprisings in Cairo and Tunis in 2011 where mass crowds succeeding in succeeded in ousting unpopular but he would argue still legitimate governments but back inside the Soviet Union in 1990 the Baltic states were first in the queue to for a follow astern Europe's lead and push for greater freedom Gorbachev tried to resist it but by now he was unable to stop the processes which he had initiated because not only was the Soviet economy in crisis and the Soviet Communist Party know no longer all-powerful but there were more and more demands for autonomy or even outright secession from other Soviet republics including the two most important Ukraine and Russia itself where a campaign for Russia to be allowed to run its own affairs became the rallying cry of a new leader called Boris Yeltsin in August 1991 the crisis came to a head with Soviet military and security chiefs desperately trying to turn the clock back staging an attempted coup to try to stop the process of disintegration within days that coup failed and served only to hasten the final collapse and by the end of December 1991 go which off had no choice but to stand down as Soviet president hand over the codes for the nuclear suitcase to the new Russian president Boris Yeltsin and make a dignified exit into a long retirement the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin flagpole and the Russian tricular took its place the 15 Soviet republics including Russia became independent nations the Soviet Union was no more it's hard to remember now that when Boris Yeltsin took over from Gorbachev as the first-ever Russian president to occupy the Kremlin he was still hugely popular in the Persian era that tendency subsequently has been to remember him as a figure of ridiculed who was an embarrassment to his country but back then in early 1992 he was seen as energetic and courageous a symbol of the renewal that Russia desperately needed he was the hero who stood on the tank to urge the Russian people to defy the coup leaders in August the reformer prepared to take radical decisions where Gorbachev had been prone to hesitation and a new president who is making it possible to revive Russia's national identity after its near death during the Soviet era however it didn't take long for it to become clear to all of us that the new Russian president's behavior was somewhat troubling he would disappear for days at moments when a clear sense of direction was needed especially over the floundering economy and when he did appear in public his speech was sometimes slurred and elliptical his aides claimed it was all about medication for old sports injuries but our rumors suggested alcoholism it was as though the impossible burdens of the state were physically overpowering and aging him his absences reinforced a growing sense of chaos and uncertainty and I often look at pictures like this and remember you know before all this started he was actually quite handsome and vigorous and in ten years you'll see in a photo later on he was just a shadow of his former self because the challenges that he and his new government faced were astronomical their economic plan was known as shock therapy and the aim was try to try to move Russia as fast as possible into a market economy the new reformers in his government believed that only by swiftly eliminating the vestiges of the old Soviet state control system and stimulating private enterprise could the country hope to kick-start its economy again and avoid the danger of a counter-coup a stealthy return to old bureaucratic habits and backhanders by those too invested in the old system to relinquish it so small-scale private enterprise was made legal virtually overnight price controls were lifted and prices on all but a few basic foodstuffs for a larger float as high as the market could bear it was a radical move to stimulate productivity to fill the empty shop shelves and deliver to the Soviet can consumers the goods they'd for so long been unable to access so whereas in the Soviet Union in the early 1980s I remember I once saw an old old lady arrested for the innocent crime of selling homemade cakes to commuters at a bus stop now such activities were positively encouraged kiosks selling snacks and trinkets popped up overnight on pavements and in underpasses corner shops selling groceries became commonplace amateur traders lined up outside metro stations to hawk anything they thought there might be a market for from buckets of potatoes and flowers from the gardens to family antiques the second-hand clothes to live kittens snuggled inside an overcoat but on a larger scale introducing private enterprise to a centrally planned economy which had been focused around heavy industry and an outsized military sector for several decades was no easy asked in Soviet times private ownership had been banned so the state was the country's only employer state factories and collective farms didn't just provide jobs for local people they also ran local schools and kindergartens and culture centers and polyclinics the new Russian government came up with a scheme to distribute vouchers to citizens so they could participate in a nationwide privatization scheme this is all very well but where a factory came with a school and a hospital attached and was anyway lost making and unproductive who would want to buy into that burden and if not who should shoulder the responsibility for the social services in some places the local economy of a whole town or city was totally dependent on a single metal works or tannery or smelting plant many of these were in remote places where people live much of the year in harsh wintry conditions and we all know what wintery means in Russia to leave such enterprises prone to bankruptcy in the new unforgiving world of capitalist Russia risk seeing whole communities go under with them to make matters worse the old system of trade barter between factories and suppliers in various parts of the Soviet Union no longer function properly now national borders had replaced the once invisible boundaries between different Soviet republics to begin with the old ruble still functioned as a currency across much of the former Soviet space but as time went on alternative currencies emerged and new customs and trade arrangements took hold and Russia at the heart of the old Soviet web was often the loser as a result no surprise Russian industrial production plummeted enterprises once seen as symbols of Soviet pride closed down many of them especially in smaller provincial towns remain empty and discarded to this day this photo is of a now defunct industrial zone in southwest Moscow and actually I took the photo in 2015 and you see that in a lot of out-of-the-way Russian towns some quite big it's always a surprise to me how much of this you see this area is still virtually abandoned some of its outhouses are rented out a storage space two intrepid startups who want to Moscow address I was there because I was interviewing one of them and they told me that apparently the location is hired to movie companies who were doing world war two films if they need a suitably derelict background to stage battle scenes and shootouts so that's what happened to some of Soviet industry but not all industry went under some enterprising young businessman bought up loss-making plants knocked down prices in return for supporting Yeltsin in his reelection campaign in 1996 the deal was known as the sale of the century they slapped up these failing enterprises in potentially lucrative sectors like oil and gas and precious metals where they could turn them into multi-million dollar profit making export businesses and in time these entrepreneurs became some of Russia's richest men the so-called oligarchs of Russia so what did it feel like for an ordinary Russian citizen to be plunged virtually overnight into this new post-soviet universe well let's be clear that not all of it was bad many in Russia were jubilant at the changes at least to start with for some it was the liberation the last remaining restrictions on what could be said in public or published or performed were lifted those who were educated and entrepreneurial or had foreign languages now had the chance to travel and start new businesses and develop their own individual potential for the first time as a foreigner living in Moscow I remember the extraordinary impact of suddenly feeling free from being observed or reported on it was well known that the KGB monitored foreigners carefully controlling and even restricting their movements when I arrived in Moscow as correspondent in 1989 you needed a special permit even to drive beyond the Moscow Ring Road now in these early years of post communist Russia we foreigners could travel freely throughout the country and relations with Russian friends were less complicated a psychological barrier was lifted no longer was the fear that someone might be eased dropping or keeping an eye on you for many Russians though especially those that were part of the old system Communist Party members government official or like Vladimir Putin members at the KGB security services or the army what happened was a tragedy they were now being blamed for all the ills of the old system many found themselves pensioned off and out of a job and had to scramble to find new careers as consultants or commercial dealers mr. Putin reinvented himself to become deputy mayor of st. Petersburg and from there leap frogged into a political career in the Kremlin in Moscow but for other Russian citizens trapped in remote parts of the country such opportunities were of course non-existent for these people with little experience of the outside world and little understanding of the risks as well as the benefits of a market economy the transition wasn't just scary it was terrifying the old world may have been characterized by shortages and miserable living standards and restrictions from the party but at least everyone had a job and prices were the same now there was no safety net hyperinflation and people stayed in jobs even when firms couldn't pay them I remember men on the factory floor telling me they've been working for six months without pay just an odd bag of oranges or a slab of meat as compensation for unpaid wages I remember the first week of January 1992 I went out on the street to gauge the reaction and ordinary people were where they were panic-stricken it wasn't just the new prices one egg suddenly costing one old lady's monthly pension it was the terrible realization that free prices meant tomorrow's egg could be even more expensive and for even younger people who spoke English and had a modern education it was a huge adjustment shopkeepers didn't always want to shoulder the risk this is too stressful one of them told me one bookshop owner and some people took a while to grasp the fundamentals I went to one seminar for Russian banking officials run by a British accounting firm and at the end one young Russian put up his hand fluent English speaker and said excuse me what is profit by contrast of course some people did see I talked about the oligarchs a lucrative business opportunity and the other people well-versed in that were those who'd come from the illegal world of the Soviet black market actually with the oligarchs it turned out quite a few of them had been schooled in mathematics or theoretical physics I remember once asking them one about about this and he said in reply or in our university seminars we had to solve theoretical problems in five or six dimensions adapting to the new rules a post-soviet society is easy it's just like solving a new problem but for most people the confusion was overwhelming the rupture of links with former republics the refugees the hyperinflation the unemployment and then clashes first of all between President Yeltsin and his own Parliament in 1993 and then a terrible war against the separatists in the southern region of Chechnya it's worth dwelling on the upheaval and the stress this caused in just four short months at the end of 1991 the Soviet Communist Party that ruled Russia for over 70 years was outlawed the Soviet Union was abolished Boris Yeltsin brought in his reformers who bush in price controls and then they began privatization each change revolutionary imagine if something like that happened in in Britain and as a result not surprisingly life expectancy levels in Russia plummeted between 1987 and 1994 according to one round research paper the number of people dying in Russia each year went up by a million you normally only see that when a country's going through a war one World Health Organization official told me so no wonder in this world that many Russians found himself in the buzzwords of democracy and liberalism became pejorative and business which had always meant shady dealings was now equated with thievery and corruption and then there was the bewilderment about their identity one moment they were citizens of an international superpower with nuclear weapons and Nobel Prize winners and world-class tradition of literature and ballet and music and then the country's vanished overnight and the new Russia is an economic basket case treated as a poor relation by the West littered with bankrupt factories and poorly protected by an army which couldn't even feed itself will maintain its equipment I remember visiting Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula in 1994 where the Russian Black Sea Fleet has its home they lease it they leased it from Ukraine at that point and every morning the sailors would swab the decks and line up to salute the Russian flags but the big grey vessels never left Harbor because I was told they couldn't afford the fuel to go out on exercise Sevastopol was a bastion the Soviet Patra chisholm by the way you would have thought that the Soviet Union in 1994 was still alive and well Soviet military heroes red party communist slogans on the roofs it's no wonder that when Vladimir Putin some 20 years later went to annex Crimea he was able to harness the festival's patriotic fervor and nostalgia for the Soviet past to claim that the local people wanted it so we shouldn't underestimate Russian loss and humiliation the end of Soviet Communism might have seemed a good news story in the West and it was an extraordinary end to over 70 years of oppression and a revolution which happened almost without bloodshed but I remember I made a great BBC radio series at the time which we called a revolution without shots and I often thought it was really to the credit of the Russian people and their leaders that they made this painful transition so peacefully if you compare it with what happened after Saddam Hussein left Iraq or Gaddafi's and the end of Gaddafi's long rule in Libya or what we're seeing now in Syria but I think now when I look back my assumption that this was a revolution without shots was too glib though would have been two wars in Chechnya there's a short war in Georgia the simmering Ukrainian East war in eastern Ukraine carries on lingering consequences of the Soviet empire unraveling it's just – took a while for the after-effects to erupt into bloodshed and violence let's fast-forward through the 90s – this is December the 31st 1999 and it's the moment when Boris Yeltsin out of the blue announced he was resigning and handing over to a relatively young unknown official called Vladimir Putin he was in part respond to the popular mood he was visibly ailing look at how different he is in just 10 years and although he'd won re-election in 1996 his domestic as supported or had all got gone especially after a financial crisis in 1998 when the ruble was devalued overnight and Russia defaulted on its domestic debt which actually helps the economy readjust but for that all those Russians who'd hidden their money beneath mattresses because they didn't trust the country's banks all their life savings were wiped out and then there had been the first war in Chechnya it had an ended being negotiated to it but terrorist attacks hadn't ended it felt as though the country was in inexorable decline and all over the place there was a feeling change was needed Putin who'd only recently been appointed as Yeltsin's fifth prime minister in two years was rather a gray figure every woman used to say but Putin who is Putin as befitted of course the man who made his early career in the KGB an important point seemed to be that he was selected for his loyalty his first gesture was to guarantee President Yeltsin a comfortable retirement an immunity from prosecution but subsequently I've talked to officials who were close to the Yeltsin's inner circle and they said the reason Pearson was chosen was he looked like an efficient administrator who would push through basic reforms to stabilize the economy and improve group growth and they didn't think he really was behind an agenda of economic liberalisation and good relations with the West and of course he was young and vigorous in health unlike Yeltsin and now some of those same people in private say they bitterly regret the choice they'd never have supported Putin if they'd realized he might fall back on his KGB instincts to make national security such an overwhelming priority to the exclusion of civil liberties and economic considerations but back then he seemed like a solid bet and he soon emerged from the shadows to position himself as a man of action he started a new war a second war with Chechnya after Chechen militants invaded a neighboring territory marking him out early as decisive brutal and something of a risk-taker one former senior crimina official told me that putin's advisers warned him not to do it because the first disastrous campaign against Chechnya could nearly cost Yeltsin his re-election but Putin who was firmly focused on the idea of what he saw as a major Islamist terrorist threat in southern Russia went ahead anyway incidentally some Kremlin opponents have decided a darker side to the start of this second Chechen campaign it was a terrible set of apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities in September 1999 just as Putin had been made Prime Minister and it's sent shockwaves around the country and some critics of the Kremlin including the Russian former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko later as we know it poisoned in London suggested these might have been deliberately staged these bombings by the Russian security service to increase support for a new Chechen war and enhance Putin's popularity so that he could become confirmed as new president a few months later Putin of course dismisses such allegations as delirious nonsense in many other ways Poosh in his early moves and statements boosted his popularity more on unambiguously his first address to the nation called for Russia to overcome its past by fashioning an economy that would generate stability and prosperity and restore its international prestige he called for better relations with Western leaders deeper reforms more foreign investment and before he was even elected he'd invited NATO secretary-general to Moscow to smooth over the Rao that Russia had been having with NATO over its campaign in Kosovo in a BBC interview in the year 2000 Putin even went so far as to say he wouldn't rule out the possibility of one day joining NATO and he saw Russia as part of European culture now if Western leaders were encouraged by all of this inside Russia the response verged on adulation there was a new flat tax which encouraged people to start playing to paying taxes for the first time there was a very welcomed steep rise in global oil prices and very soon money was pouring into the government's coffers enabling him to increase pensions and some public sector wages pay off the country's foreign debt and start building up a sovereign wealth fund the turnaround from the calamitous financial crisis of 1998 was dramatic between 1999 and 2006 real disposable income doubles Russians had entered a period of us unprecedented prosperity their country was back on the world stage again as an undisputed global power they began to feel that Russia deserved to be called great and the president of great Russia was of course Vladimir Putin it's one of my favorite pictures it's to illustrate the fact that there is plenty of reason for many different parts of Russian society to rally around their new president the pensioners who saw their monthly incomes rise the educated Russians who'd applauded that changes Gorbachev brought in but then were dismayed in the 1990s when they saw their own benefits and jobs dwindled because the old guarantees of state support disappeared and then there were like these retired paratroopers those in the Army and the security services who really loved the fact that mr. Putin was reviving the country's global reputation and prioritizing its security needs and of course all those workers who are now being paid for the first time all these people rallied round mr. Putin but it soon became clear that the president was only prepared to go so far when it came to economic reforms and opening up to the outside world and in particular to Western partners very soon on the domestic front alongside the rhetoric about reforms investments were moves designed to strengthen control first of all oligarch owners of independent TV stations were targeted and before in within months the main national television channels all fell under Kremlin control one way or another then the entire clan of oligarchs was summoned to the Kremlin and told to stay clear of politics altogether and when one of them mikhail khodorkovsky ignored that order he was arrested and given a long prison sentence then there were further measures to increase central control over politics including new rules that made it harder for opposition parties to enter Parliament more say from the president over the appointment of regional governments governors and space for people to speak out and criticize the Kremlin shrunk and shrunk to almost nothing in foreign policy to became clear that Putin's growing disenchantment with the Western powers was leading to a problem there were warnings that Russia shouldn't be taken for granted or ignored anymore especially when it came to its own security and especially its own backyard and what he regarded as its sphere of influence the former Soviet republics that he believed should be a security cordon for Russia to keep foreign threats at bay so we move on to a new sort of mr. Putin and the growing crisis in his relations with the West really came to a head in 2008 two former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine as I said had been given to understand that they might be able to join NATO and you've only got to look at a map to realize if you're the Russian president and you've got a KGB background you're going to be deeply suspicious because if you look at the Black Sea coast right the way round from Georgia through Turkey to Greece Bulgaria Romania and Ukraine including Crimea if all that's part of NATO well the Russia has is a tiny little foothold in the Northeast just a small coastal foothold so a Russian retaliation came that summer in early August Russian troops and tanks stationed in the Caucasus rolled across the border into Georgia to conduct a short but bloody war and bring two chunks of Georgian territory South Ossetia and Abkhazia and a de facto Russian control they remain under Russia's thumb to this day at the time to avoid a dangerous confrontation with Moscow the West more or less accepted Russia's claim that this was an intervening intervention on humanitarian terms its troops had come to the rescue of peacekeepers caught up in a skirmish with Georgian soldiers in retrospect Western most Western views Western government's views have changed they now believe that the invasion was at least in part a well-planned operation to send a deliberate message to NATO not to intervene in Russia's backyard in fact the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev even admitted as such in a chance remark not long after and then as we know six years later that suspicion was confirmed in 2014 when Russian troops intervened in a neighboring Republic again and this time the former Soviet republic was should angered Moscow by seeking closer ties with the West Was Ukraine and Russia's punishment was to annex that strategic foothold in the Crimea in the Black Sea Crimea it's worth noting that Vladimir Putin initially denied that there was any Russian military involvement in that takeover he claimed that the little green men as they were called in charge of the operation were local volunteers but within weeks he officially confirmed Crimea's annexation by Russia and then said he would intervene in any country where any Russians were at risk which really alarmed the West and then he unashamedly even defiantly held a ceremony to award kremlin medals to the Russian forces involved and then within a month the conflict had spread to eastern Ukraine where a low-level damaging conflict sinners to this day Russia's justification for what it did was that he was just doing what nature did in Kosovo so because he wanted to break away from former Yugoslavia these enclaves in Georgia and Crimea in Ukraine all wanted self-determination the West had set a precedent it didn't get UN approval if it didn't like it when someone else played by the same rule book well it should have thought of that and the message from the Kremlin began to change up till then Russian officials had tended to say the West was being unfair and using stereotypical Cold War thinking and painting Russia as a menacing bear when it that was just old thinking but now bloody repeating see to rather relish the image and he even said a bear's claws can inflict real damage and he warned the West that if it didn't accept Russia's demands for proper respect and an equals say and new rules of the game with proper parity then there wouldn't be any rules at all with the attendant risk that the world would descend into chaos but it's interesting that while he was playing up Russia's supposed strength in this rhetoric abroad at home he was also warning Russians the opposite thing that their country was vulnerable he would repeat domestic audiences for his visuals on television that the United States in the West were now the enemy and once again as during World War Two against a fascist hit from right from Hitler and during the Cold War against NATO Russians needed to be ready to defend the motherland so for Western governments the annexation of Crimea and the start of the war in Ukraine was a watershed moment diplomats talked of it being the first change of borders by force in Europe since the Second World War it led as we know to targeted sanctions on Russia from the US and the EU and the slide into mutual suspicion and recrimination accelerated and so from now on NATO saw whirring evidence of Russian aggression everywhere escalated military activity constant massive residence readiness exercises conducted by its troops the buzzing of NATO air and sea defenses cyber attacks and so on and before long of course as we know Western governments began to look at the information warfare being skillfully conducted by Russia through traditional TV and radio Scannell x' and less traditional trolling to shape conversations and trends and even election outcomes on social media sites the Cold War divided it seemed was back and since the years in the years since the Crimean annexation that crisis has just continued to deepen and the attempted murders of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury in the UK led to a full-blown tit-for-tat of diplomatic expulsion 'he's a ramping up of sanctions against russia by both Britain and many of its NATO allies and now a new round of through Rochas accusations on both side about where responsibility for that attack lay some analysts have suggested that the Kremlin's increasing focus on this enemy without was not really about real external threats at all but much more about mr. Putin's fear of what could happen to his own power if contagion spread to Russia a popular uprising toppling the president and destroying his power base so like those deposed leaders of Iraq and Libya and Ukraine all he could do was flee for his life to escape mobbing rioters certainly it's true that after the so-called Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 which asked it Eduard Shevardnadze and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 which removed for the first time Viktor Yanukovych mr. Putin immediately expressed a deep suspicion of what he called colored revolutions uprisings which in the name of democracy and claiming to express the will of the people overturned election results and brought down governments and so it did in fact something something that seemed like this did in fact happen in Russia in late 2011 the astonishment of most observers and opposition leaders tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets in Moscow and some other cities incensed by what they saw as widespread fraud in parliamentary elections fraud apparently to hide the fact that the Kremlin's favourite party was heading for a likely defeat and people really were surprised just two or three days before identified one of the main opposition leaders in Moscow he had no idea this was coming within days the demand of the crowd shifted from calling for a rerun of the election to calling for Putin to step down so just imagine what he thought there's no doubt he must have been profoundly shaken his authority and legitimacy rested on him being demonstrably the Russian people's preferred choices leader yet here were thousands of people on the streets calling for his removal and the following March 2012 he ran for presidency to return as a third term the polls closed the exit polls began to predict he win by a landslide he came out of the Kremlin to be congratulated by a specially gathered crowd of supporters and what was extraordinary was his emotion his voice was hoarse tears rolled down his cheeks his spokesman insisted it was just a cold wind making his eyes water but it looked like the relief of a leader who couldn't be sure that he was going to take back the presidency without mishap so when two years later after these events of 2011-2012 you have another colored revolution in Ukraine and another pro-russian president is forced to flee because of the crowds behind Putin's evident fury at the turn of events that he kind of lost Ukraine there must also have been a return of that concern that if Ukraine succeeded in transforming itself into a prosperous modern democratic state it might become a model that would infect Russia and what if instead of being constantly grateful to Vladimir Putin for saving them from the nightmare of the 1990s the Russian people took to the streets again and called her regime change an importance view ever since that Orange Revolution in Ukraine he's always seen he's noted that members of the US administration have come out in support of these Street protesters as they see it in the United States people exercising their democratic right to protest and say what they want so in the orange revolution the street protests in Moscow in 2011 the second Maidan uprising as it's called in Ukraine in 2014 US officials were out there supporting the crowds and that to mr. Putin was proof that the American government was essentially hostile and would take any opportunity it could to use the same techniques to unseat him from the Kremlin so by the time he came back this year to be reelected to start a fourth presidential term it was pretty clear that his recipe for staying in power was to try to eliminate any possible challenges which he thought might threaten his position so there's no doubt that in recent years Russia has been subsumed by a wave of patriotic fervor partly spontaneous partly engineered these Soviet style military parades we now see on certain annual holidays on Red Square is just one expression of that and it's empowered national groups and it's made ultra nationalist sentiments which were once rather marginal now part of the mainstream discourse a message driven home constantly on Russian television that Russia faces a threat from external enemies and internally from fifth columnist s' and other traitors in some quarters tougher Western sanctions since 2014 have intensified this feeling of suspicion and even defiance some Russians have actually welcomed sanctions as a reason to cut ties with the west and make the country more self-reliant and of course sanctions is also a useful pretext for the Russian government to blame the West for any difficulties in the economy and there are indications this isn't just among the older population who are nostalgic for the Soviet system and resentful of the humiliation they felt they had in the 1990s but also among some members of a much younger post-soviet generation some analysts used to say we're now in a different world were in a post-soviet world the new young Russians will be very different from those who are nostalgic for the Soviet Union but actually like in this after-school Club which I visited run by the far-right Rodina or motherland' party all these people were saying the same thing these these young school children they were there to train to be holy warriors to defend the motherland they're taught to load weapons to go on maneuvers the organizers in this club even took some of the youngsters as volunteers to help the pro-russian separatist separatists in eastern Ukraine so they witness war at first hands so they'd be ready they said school curriculums have changed to focus on Russian military victories and instances of American aggression if you go to a bookshop you won't find the dark side of 20th century Russian history the gulags the repressions of Stalin's Russia instead of Stalin's a war hero and in some towns they're even voting to put the statues of Stalin back to honor him it's a symbolic gesture which is perhaps more than anything else feels like a throwback to a former Soviet era so it makes you wonder how much of this Soviet past is still there and how much of this could really shape where Russia goes from now what is going to happen in Russia is it Back to the Future a return not just to the Soviet emblems at parades on Red Square as here but an increasingly neo Soviet retrenchment in political and economic life and a further widening of the breach between Russia and the West all in time could the country return to the process of economic liberalisation and the development of democratic institutions which got off to that shaky start in the 1990s in other words are we observing the likely authoritarian path which Russia may well follow for the rest of the 21st century or is the current trajectory not a fork in the road away from democracy but merely a temporary detour all questions about Russia's future tend to come back to the figure of Vladimir Putin he's managed to centralize so much political power in his own hands and his students Lia voided having a succession strategy one of his aides said a few years ago at a conference I was present at but it was a comment which went viral on social media without pushing there is no Russia and without Russia there is no Putin so what are we to make of his position and intentions certainly it's the case that he seems officially according to a opinion polls to enjoy extraordinary levels of popularity 80% or so but more and more the question is asked how deep does that support really go when you survey the bright lights of Moscow it's hard to remember that in large parts of the country like that factory I showed you which is in the outskirts of Moscow many people haven't benefited from the boom years and it could well be that society is much more polarized than it appears but those who support mr. Putin speak out and those who don't stay silent out of fear of the authorities and the possible opprobrium of others I went to do some filming in a Russian moscow park a few years ago a rather charming Sunday afternoon tea dance all the people come out to dance and I wanted to draw from about opinions of their president most people wouldn't speak to me the only people who would speak to me with the ones who were fierce loyalists actually not just of mr. Putin but also of Joseph Stalin so could all this change certainly if oil prices plummeted again has happened in 2014 or if the long-term impact of these latest Western sanctions forced the Russian economy to contract that could be a problem for the Kremlin it would challenge Putin's claim that he brought prosperity and stability it would raise the spectra returned to the miseries of the 1990s that has supposed have gone together forever and as Kremlin consultants will tell you you had to remember Russia may be under authoritarian rule but it's not true that it's a dictatorship Putin's popularity matters he needs to show he has public support to validate his mandate and not needs to prove to those around him that he really is irreplaceable he can get people's support when no one else can he's an emperor and the trickiest he has to get the crowd to believe that he is wearing clothes that he's the best answer to Russia's problem if the illusion is broken he loves to take his top off but if he really lost his clothes and a serious recession in the economy could shatter many hopes that he might find that this cloak of invincibility also began to fall from his shoulders so in theory he's supposed to step down again from the presidency in 2024 because according to the Russian Constitution he can't run for a consecutive third term some Russians were already thinking that he might contemplate a subsequent return and there are precedents out there in Kazakhstan and in China for example powerfully that powerful leaders have changed the Constitution to become presidents for life but there is another possibility but Putin leaves the Constitution as it is and does what he did in 2008 and swaps places with a loyal acolyte who takes on the presidency but he remains the real power behind the Train because let us remember in Russia's relatively short post communist history there has been a third russian President Dmitry Medvedev he was nominated by Putin and elected president in 2008 and then swap places with Putin in 2012 and became Russian prime minister a post he still holds and despite rumours that he's enormously corrupt and very unpopular and his time might be up he's still the only member of the government who joins Putin toises alongside him in the inevitable summer photo shoots to show the head of state relaxing skiing together or working out in the gym together or drinking a cup of tea together so I wanted to leave you with a Russian anecdote which was doing the rounds in 2008 at that time it was funny because it seems such an absurd prediction today it's rather unsettling because it seems an eerie forecast of a future that's all to imaginable so the air is 2024 two old men are sitting in the Sun on a bench and they're drinking beer one says to the other Vladimir Vladimirovich I can't remember which of us is president and which is Prime Minister and the other replies huh he doesn't matter Dima I'm still in charge fetch me another beer thank you very much




Comments
  1. There are no "Stalin" statues seen anywhere in Russia. Russia has passed through a full Capitalist restauration, a counter revolution best symbolized by the Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds widespread everywhere alongside the Orthodox Church rejuvenation, and a new bourgeoise class has emerged. This new bourgeois regime has been requested to subordinate to the US world order, i.e. continue the geopolitical weakening but decided to take advantage of its military power in order to keep its place in the world. Further sanctions led it to a strategic alliance with Communist China. So we can see it a sort of new bourgeoise power, forced to rebellion, since to much of its own distaste and against its own illusions has discovered that Imperialism has not collapsed.
    History has not ended, Capitalism is still rapacious Imperialism, and the need to transcend it is still open.

  2. no state or people would ever be free or truely independent for as long as it believes in what is commonly known as "the strong leader" , as a figure or a group of figures that are beyond examination or questioning by the people and the intellectual groups. in russia, historically, while the system of government and the structure of the economy did not remain the same, there is still legitimation of brutocracy, for lack of a better term. most of the current "leaders" of post-communist russia were operatives of the former regime. they may have introduced a veneer of larger purchasing power for the citizens, but that did not excorcise the ghost of ivan the terrible from the kremlin.

  3. DID GORBECHEV (SIC) SIMPLY FIND THAT NO ONE WAS ACTUALLY "IN CONTROL" OF THE COUNTRY? AS FOR DEEP ROOTED CORRUPTION – I DOUBT ANY OTHER COUNTRIES COULD CLAIM TO BE FREE FROM IT. I, PERSONALLY, WILL HAVE NOTHING SAID AGAINST HIM – GORBECHEV (SIC) THAT IS: THE PERSONIFICATION OF DISILLUSIONMENT – BOTH WESTERN AND EASTERN.

  4. Still spouting the western bs i see. Tell me have u been to Crimea and asked the locals????? U missed out the most important part. Why does Russia want a gold backed currency and not Fiat money? and why does Russia want a multi polarised world and not the one dictated by America

  5. like one horse towns over here: Detroit, Youngstown, Wheeling, Pittsburg….Gary … the commie rustbelt, commie rustbelt…. tuff shit…. all gone….

  6. Brilliant lecture! Thank you. I spoke to a lady from Moscow coming here, saying she often did not get paid, and that thecompanies get away with "promises" of pay regularly, and often only get half-this was only 5 years ago!
    There is a similar feeling in the east of germany-many are resentful of the freedom and argue now we have no jobs for money to travel. After witnessing the wall coming down it was supposed to be a celebration but i'm shocked so many don't think that way-they still teach russian at school not english, there are plenty of things which make you see how little they've accepted they're new status and keep on encouraging military fervour among the young . The west also assumed the east could be successful with help but sadly, not only are ghost towns common, but there are whole estates of new housing empty of people who ran back to the west.

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