Robert Amsterdam has come across a lecture by Princeton University Professor Steven Kotkin who claims to be exposing three "false assumptions" about Russia. They are as follows:
False assumption #1: that the Kremlin is controlled by one united group. Quite the contrary - instead of managed democracy, Putin has arranged "managed fragmentation", which is integral part of Dictatorship 101.Whereas “Kremlin Inc.” implies a team, united in a collective enterprise, most high Russian officials despise each other. They’re rivals, in charge of competing fiefdoms with overlapping jurisdictions, and they’re trying to destroy each other.
Kotkin is totally mischaracterizing the "Kremlin Inc." argument. First of all, the whole point of this argument is to play on the term "Murder Inc." by equating the Kremlin to a mafia regime that uses murder as a policy tool. It's outrageously disingenuous (or maybe just plain incompetent) for Kotkin to ignore this fact. Everyone knows that the mafia consisted of "rivals, in charge of competing fiefdoms with overlapping jurisdictions, and they’re trying to destroy each other." That proves the analysis is valid, not that it isn't. What's more, the good professor, being an academic, has apparently never spent a single day in inside a major corporation. Had he, he'd know that they too are characterized by "rivals, in charge of competing fiefdoms with overlapping jurisdictions, and they’re trying to destroy each other." The fact that Microsoft is like that inside doesn't mean it can't be dangerous to rivals like Netscape.
False assumption #2: that Russian society is wasting away. Not true - Russia is second in the world (behind the USA) in accepting immigrants, 20-25% of the population is solidly middle class and mostly apolitical, and the dynamicism of these groups contributes to Russia's under-appreciated stability.
Again, Kotkin is perverting the facts in a grossly unprofessional way. Despite the fact that that Russia has a large amount of immigration, it is still a net loser of population to the tune of 1 million people per year. More important, the source of immigration for Russia is mostly Slavic Russians returning home from places where they are not wanted in the former USSR, and this is a source that will dry up, at just about the same time that Russia's public health crisis, especially AIDS, goes critical. Most important of all, to the extent that Russia tries to solve its population crisis by importing non-Slavic people, the dark-skinned arrivals will run into the meat grinder of Slavic racism and create an epic disaster in Russia. It's genuinely breathtaking that a scholar from a well-known institution can get so much wrong in such a small space.
False assumption #3: Russia's assertive and resentful foreign policy is threat. Not exactly - Russia is notoriously clumsy and ineffectual in achieving its foreign policy objectives, Russia is friendless, and Russia is really only threatening to itself.
Basically, what Kotkin is saying is that Russians are so incompetent that they're not dangerous. It may well be true that Russia isn't capable of mounting an actual invasion of Europe, but how dare this maniac ignore the fact that Russia has already supplied huge amounts of weapons to Venezuela, nuclear technology and missiles to defend it to Iran, and huge amounts of cash to terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah? Clearly, Russia is capable of plenty of aggressive attacks on the West, and Kotkin is apparently oblivious to the fact that the time to oppose your rival is when he is relatively weak, not after waiting for him to become strong.LR dares to ask you, dear reader: How would this article have been different if the KGB had written it?
Kotkin does point out one important fact, however (perhaps unintentionaly). He writes:
About half of the Russian middle class works for the state. They’re bureaucrats and functionaries, law enforcement officials and tax collectors, inspectors and education overseers. They work in the KGB successor, the FSB, and in the big state-owned gas, oil, automobile, or defense companies. There’s a gigantic private economy in Russia (Russia’s economy is more private than China’s). But even those who work in private companies usually work in very large corporations. A tiny fraction of the Russian middle class owns their own businesses, but by and large, Russia’s middle class is not independent, small- or medium-sized business owners. Whereas in the United States and Western Europe, 70 percent of employment is in small and medium-sized businesses, Russia doesn’t even approach 25 percent for such employment.
In other words, the idea that Russia has a true middle class is a fantasy. In fact, what Russia has is a bunch of people who are directly employed by Vladimir Putin, and hence are his slaves. What did Kotkin mean, then, when he previously stated that "20-25% of the population is solidly middle class"? One can only guess. Apparently, he views "stability" in Russia as "under-appreciated" and wonderful. Stalin was stable. Was that wonderful, too? And doesn't the Kremlin's ability to hire a middle class depend on the price of oil? If it drops, will Russia continue to be so "stable"?
So we ask you again: Kotkin seems to be saying that Russia is stable and not too dangerous. Isn't the conclusion that there's no need to confront Russia, we can just leave it alone and cooperate with it on some issues? If so, how is that any different than the argument the KGB would make?