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02 january, 2007 | Ron Hamilton

Roy's article (1220726)


Date:        28 March 2007

From:       Ron Hamilton + Roy’s comment

Subject :  Roy's article



Dear Sergei,
Your tongue-in-cheek criticism of the western analysts whose work most often influences US policy decisions has me rolling on the floor laughing!!! Fantastic and funny writing. The real analysis is spot on too. Thanks for this. Well done.
I agree that the social contract is now the biggest issue facing Russia. I have to say that Putin needed the money and power brokers both in the top echelons of the government and the private sector to implement the most urgent reforms and programs to stabilize the country as he has done as president.
So, now that he has accomplished the initial reforms he may now through other mechanisms as you suggest be able to tackle the social fairness (contract) problem. Had he tackled the social issues before the other issues and attempted to redistribute the wealth more equitably with a progressive tax system he would have likely failed on all initiatives from the very beginning.
The most pertinent and applicable historical example of where Russia is today (socially) for me is Teddy Roosevelt's presidency. Russia today most closely resembles the US during our Robber Barron period. Politically Russia is facing the same issues of succession that President Washington faced, but he had his VP Adams to pass on the power to (a trusted, capable man) and Adams even as President continued to consult Washington. The US was blessed in that our first six Presidents were virtually indistinguishable in political ideology, character, and talent thus assuring a 40 year period of stable like-minded leadership basically continuing the revolution and providing leadership stability. They were all mostly wealthy capitalists from the landed class. 
I can only wonder how much Putin's reputation and great respect from the Russian people will provide him the power necessary to push through the needed social and tax reforms once out of the Kremlin. I think that he is going down in history as the Father of the modern Russian nation and in my opinion will be as revered in the future in Russia as George Washington is among Americans.
So I think that the number one problem is the social contract and the number two problem is the succession and continuity of Putin style stability and firm leadership.
You live in exciting times in Russia. 

Ron Hamilton


Roy’s comment:




Dear Ron,

I quite agree that rebuilding the state and pleasing the populace are somewhat mutually exclusive tasks, and Putin, or rather the sections of the elite he represents, did right to pursue the former first and put off the latter until a more opportune moment. Actually, he has done quite a great deal to alleviate the lot of the needy, but, as must be clear from my text, not enough. There is a mammoth task ahead, what you call a renewed social contract – and the fulfilling of that contract.


I wrote the article the way I wrote it in the hope of giving certain circles a nudge in the right direction (right now I am translating the piece into Russian, hoping to bring it to the attention of those circles). But I fully realize there are plenty of pitfalls on that path. You may not remember the way the original article, “Putin’s Power,” ended. In fact, it ended on a fairly pessimistic note:


“Now for the $64000 question: will he or won’t he? Go for scenario B, I mean? It would be highly probable if the impossible happened, the radical-liberal wing of Russia’s political spectrum, headed by a Kasyanov-type character, won the elections, and Putin were driven into opposition by force of events. Alas, even if Khodorkovsky, Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Nevzlin & Co. were allowed to take over every single TV channel, radio station and newspaper in the land, the probability of their victory in a moderately free and fair election would be a big fat zero. The most bizarre versions of Operation Successor are possible, given the electorate’s total disenchantment with the political class as a whole, but the spawning of a victorious force by the oligarchs— No, we had better leave these Freudian fantasies to the “analysts” already in the pay of those same oligarchs and other interested parties.


Here I come to the saddest part of my exposé, for the crucial decision obviously devolves on Putin himself – and I just do not believe Putin to be made of the stuff of greatness. A move like the one outlined in Scenario B calls for a man of the stature of Roosevelt or Churchill or De Gaulle, a great leader or just a tough one. Putin is merely a good – perhaps very good – public servant, and we in Russia are very lucky to get even someone like him. Blame it on the Soviet system, with its “negative selection,” or any other factor, but there is no escaping the fact itself. Russia, by the way, is not alone in this fix: as we observe Blair lying his head off in parliament, Berlusconi nimbly evading criminal proceedings, and George W. Bush any time, anywhere, curious phrases flit through one’s mind: “hollow men… stuffed men… Headpiece filled with straw.” And, like another poet said, “We do not choose the times, we live and die in them.” The same goes for the leaders we live and die with.


Sadly, it looks like Plan B will have to wait for a stronger man – and a stronger people. Looking into one’s crystal ball, one doesn’t see either emerging any time soon. No one reminds one of a man with the power of hoo-doo. “


Certain events in the recent past (some of them mentioned in my latest essay) have made me less pessimistic, but still not as brimful of optimism as the article may be seen to be imbued with. What I referred to as “morphing out of his bureaucratic integument” involves breaking off a multitude of personal ties with utter ruthlessness – and Putin has too much of that human element, “ruth,” to be guided by the merciless dictates of historical necessity alone. I know that that is not the picture the West has of him, but we who watch him day in, day out have learned a few things about him in the past seven years. He will only rock the boat when he is 100 percent certain of the outcome of the rocking process – and knows it will be for the good of all, himself included.


You know, I once translated into English a thick volume by Prof. Molchanov about De Gaulle, and there was one lesson I learned from that book: a really great man has a great deal of bloody-mindedness in his ego structure, an ability to tell practically the whole world to go to hell, and to charge ahead as a mad bull. Putin is a bit of a smoothy – or that is my impression.


I would dearly love to be mistaken.





Ron Hamilton’s reply:
One of the things that I think we do when we observe someone closely is to notice their faults more so than a historian writing about them a few years later. And, if we are fair-minded we notice their virtues as well. Putin may not seem great to us now at this time, but what he has done for Russia is nothing short of a miracle in my opinion. The state of the Federation today as compared to seven years ago is beyond what was imaginable then. The number of correct steps, well-timed speeches, proper voice tones, proper word choices, proper relationship building, correct reactions to insults and affronts, and the strategic vision required to steer Russia through the last seven years cannot be attributed to pure chance or luck. 
His recent Munich speech was definitely an example of rocking the boat and got some very high level attention, but you are right he didn't do it until he knew that the outcome would be positive for Russia. American hubris though prevalent is much more muted after 5 years in Iraq, and the reaction among my country's decision-makers was less aggressive than it would have been five years ago when the Neocon group was convinced that spreading democracy at the end of a gun was the best path for achieving world stability. The reaction here at home, with some notable exceptions, was more of a puzzled zoinks! Let's get busy talking with Russia before we act unilaterally in areas that affect Russia.
On the other hand Russian morale is the pits. Most people are just plain worn out and don't seem to have the hardcore work ethic needed to pull the country up by the boot straps. Most of the younger Russian folks I've met working abroad aren't really working too hard. Most are looking for easy jobs and easy money. They display a cynicism so deep that I doubt it can ever be reversed. Likely a product of spending their formative years going through the breakup, financial meltdown, economic depression, and then having to take menial and sometimes demeaning jobs at home and abroad to make ends meet. I.e., university graduates, red diplomas, working in bars serving drinks 12 hours per day seven days per week or former military and police officers working in factories abroad sewing shoes for $500 per month with the same long hours.
I understand why you are hopeful but pessimistic at the same time. Many bad things could still happen along the perilous road to stability and normalcy for your country and people.

Best regards,

Ron Hamilton




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