Lost Reform, Confused Spies

Alvaro Vargas Llosa has an op/ed in the Globe and Mail on the relationship between the incompetence of the arrested/swapped spies and the lost reform process in Russia.

Whereas China’s Deng Xiaoping had a clear vision of a midterm path to a market economy that postponed political liberation to the distant future and possessed the skills to defeat his opponents within the state, Mr. Gorbachev never wanted to dismantle the system and was clueless in his efforts to suppress dissent, as his defeat at the hands of Boris Yeltsin during an attempted coup by Communist retrogrades ultimately proved. As for Mr. Yeltsin, he had an intuition about a democratic, capitalistic Russia but no understanding of the institutional underpinnings of a market democracy. Mr. Putin was the result.

One may differ with part of this analysis, but there is some truth in the idea that present-day Russia stemmed from the failure of a reform process that started with Mr. Gorbachev and never found its bearings.

In a recent article in Spain’s ABC newspaper, Alberto Sotillo said “the USSR was a very shoddy and sloppy place … but the things they did right – they really did right.” Soviet espionage was indeed able to penetrate powerful circles in the United States, including placing a network of agents in various departments of the U.S. government. It is as yet unclear whether Mr. Putin and company can get anything right.