Russia in a Less Cynical World

Vladislav Inozemtsev’s article in the Moscow Times today comparing Medvedev’s modernization drive with Gorbachev’s perestroika is well worth reading.  Inozemtsev sees a relatively straight line driving through the recent history of Russian politics – though the main difference was that the populace was supportive of perestroika while no one is motivated by the modernization – instead “mired in the complacency of ‘stability.'”  This “endless status quo” is similarly illustrated by a recent blog post by Sean Guillory, pointing all the way back to an assessment from the Ministry of Economy from 1855, highlighting the tenacious grip of the bureaucracy.  It is pretty easy to predict just “more of the same,” but unfortunately it is a compelling argument.

Although modern Russia is not a democracy in the Western definition of the term, it is also clearly not a tyranny. Russia is a social system that has sprung up in a world driven by materialistic values. Russia chose this path itself, but the current system would probably have failed to take hold in a world less cynical and materialistic than the present one.

Russia could not exist if the Europeans were not willing to buy Russian oil and gas through quasi-criminal intermediaries, without investors eager to pour their money into speculative bubbles in the Russian stock market and without offshore havens through which Russia’s wealthiest businesspeople and officials keep their holdings.

The biggest problem with this system is that it is unable togenerate an innovation-driven economy based on knowledge andhigh-technology. Understanding this fundamental defect, themore-progressive members of the elite declared a campaign formodernization. But the initial steps taken toward this goal demonstratethat, in contrast to the past slogans of perestroika, the newmodernization call does not motivate anyone. Deeply mired in thecomplacency of “stability” — or stagnation, as many would call it –Russia has no desire to modernize. The country is thus doomed to staggeralong in its endless phase of status quo.

Modernization will never replicate perestroika — neither in itsinitial positive successes, not in its tragic failure. Thus, Russiawon’t suffer any great upheavals, but it will never be a great economicpowerhouse either.