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Economist: The Spies Who Run Russia

This week’s edition of the Economist is featuring several major stories on Putin’s Russia, and a nice cover spread as well:

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From “Putin’s people“:

Yet the siloviki’s ambitions remain misguided. That is not because there is anything illegitimate about wanting a strong Russia. What is wrong is how they define that strength—in the Soviet terms of awe and anxiety—and how they pursue it. The economy, for a start, is heavily dependent on high prices for oil, gas and other commodities that may not last. Russia is weak in manufacturing, services and high-tech industries. Putting spies in charge of big firms is a recipe for failure: they know how to grab assets and jail foes, but not how to run real businesses. Foreign investors may still covet Russia’s natural-resource sector, but a climate in which assets can be arbitrarily taken back by state officials and then redistributed to cronies is not welcoming. Both foreign and, more strikingly, domestic investment are very low compared with China. Nor is it sensible to revive Russia’s old anti-Western, zero-sum strategic thinking. The West tried to be a friend in the Yeltsin years, but has since been put off by Russian belligerence. A resurgent Russia can throw its weight around the neighbourhood and intimidate ex-Soviet republics such as Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltics; but by alienating its neighbours Moscow harms its own interests too. By dint of size and military strength, Russia is a power in the world. Yet today even the “soft power” that the Soviet Union once wielded through communism has mostly gone. In its place is only fear. The biggest misreading of all is over Russia’s own political future. The siloviki have shown they can squash opposition, suborn the courts and stay in charge. But, as in all autocracies, they are acutely nervous about the future. Mr Putin’s popularity will not easily transfer even to a hand-picked successor. More generally, as ordinary Russians get richer, they may grow dissatisfied with their present masters, especially when they see them stealing and mismanaging the economy. Russia has huge problems: crime, poor infrastructure, secessionism and chaos in the north Caucasus, appalling human-rights abuses and a looming demographic catastrophe. To counterbalance these woes, the new elite may resort to even wilder forms of nationalism; and that nationalism could turn into a monster that even its creators cannot control. In truth, the biggest threats to Russia’s future stem not from its “enemies” but from internal weaknesses, some of them self-inflicted. For a Russian ruler, or ruling class, to accept that truth would take real courage—and real patriotism.