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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Will Falling Oil Prices Aid Russian Democracy?

In an interesting article for Open Democracy, Ivan Krastev, chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria and previously executive director of the International Commission on the Balkans, argues:

Vladimir Putin is absolutely right to believe that the only real challenge that he faces is not from within Russian society but from outside. Where Putin is wrong is in fearing the spectre of an "orange revolution" that could be exported to Russia. What he should be afraid of is a green revolution in the west. Only when the price of oil falls in the west will freedom rise in Russia. So, if you want to see Russia free and democratic, stop signing anti-Putin petitions and voting for hardline anti-communists. This will change nothing. What you should do is to turn down the lights when you leave your apartment, sell your American car and start using public transport. The fight for democracy today is a fight against the tyrannical price of oil.
Sharp & Sound has also noticed this piece.

La Russophobe can't agree. In fact, she thinks the opposite is true. The Putin regime will remain in power one way or another, either literally or figuratively, and it will use either the carrot or stick to do so. High oil prices make it possible for Putin to use bribery rather than blunt trauma, but the less revenue available to him the more likely Russia will have to rely on the stick, and hence the more likely it will degenerate into even worse totalitarianism.

Now, to be sure, falling world oil prices will weaken Putin greatly. He will have to expend a lareger and larger share of his limited resources on totalititarian rule, as opposed to investing in the country's welfare (i.e., bribes as he would see it) just as his Soviet forefathers did, and eventually this will bankrupt him when resoures for welfare completely dry up and the population starts starving. But when the Soviet Union went bankrupt and disappeared due to its pathetically failed economcy, it didn't become more democratic. In fact, it could be argued that it became less so because it turned out that Russians were willing to voluntarily allow the Kremlin to do what previously it was thought it could do only by denying popular participation. In the end, Russians freely elected a proud KGB spy as their president without any need for crude Soviet tactics. Economic weakness made the Kremlin vulnerable and gave the Russian people the chance to pursue democracy, but they didn't take it.

So Putin's regime might ultimately fall because of falling world oil prices, but that won't mean Russia will become democratic or benign. It will still have a certain amount of natural resources revenue that it will squander on militarism and autocracy right up until the time time it totally destroys itself, that is unless the Russian people suddenly see the light. But this will never happen until the world confronts them, as La Russophobe is doing now, if even then.


Anonymous said...

She (La Russophobe) seems to be the only person that digs it. The only thing that lower oil prices will do is that Putin will have less money to build nuclear submarines to fight his war in Chechnya.

From my radio show

I am enjoying the site immensely.

La Russophobe said...

CYRILL: Thanks for your support! It is very heartening to know that the radio may be a bastion against the rise of the Neo-Soviet Union. Television certainly doesn't seem very useful in this regard. We have added you to La Russophobe's blogroll and will look forward to reading more about Russia therein.